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Monday, 1 April, 2002, 11:25 GMT 12:25 UK
Synagogue burnt down in Marseilles
Raphael Perez, a former rabbi, inspects the damage to a synagogue in Strasbourg
France's big cities have been targeted one by one
A fire destroyed a synagogue in the southern French city of Marseilles later on Sunday, in what appears to be the latest in a wave of attacks against Jewish targets across the country.

Police have yet to comment on the cause of the blaze which destroyed the building in the Mediterranean port city, the French news agency AFP reports.

This is not an accident... this is an anti-Semitic act

Clement Yana
French Jewish Representative Committee
In attacks in other cities, shots were fired at a kosher butcher's and two other synagogues were damaged in what Jewish leaders are seeing as a pattern of violence.

A leader of France's Jewish community said the attacks were warning signs that anti-Semitism reminiscent of the Nazi era could sweep the country.

Officials in Belgium also reported an arson attack against a synagogue in the Anderlecht district of Brussels.

Molotov cocktails thrown through the windows of the synagogue caused a small fire but no injuries or major damage, firefighters said.

Series of attacks

Molotov cocktails were thrown through the windows of the Orthodox Community of Brussels synagogue
A synagogue in Brussels was also targeted
The fire in Marseilles on Sunday night was condemned by Clement Yana of the French Jewish Representative Committee.

"This is not an accident," he said. "The fire took hold in several places. It was done with petrol. This is an anti-Semitic act."

The earlier attacks all came within 24 hours each hours of each other at the weekend in or near major cities.

  • About 15 masked assailants smashed two cars into a synagogue in Lyon and set it on fire.

  • A man fired a shotgun twice at a kosher butcher's shop in a village near the southern city of Toulouse.

  • Arsonists tried to burn down a synagogue in Strasbourg, in the east, but failed to do serious damage.

'Profoundly worried'

No-one has been hurt in the attacks, though there was a report of a Jewish couple being assaulted in the town of Villeurbanne, in the Rhone region, causing the woman to spend the night in hospital.

The charred remains of a synagogue door
Jewish leaders want increased security

Jean Kahn, president of the Central Board of French Jews, said events were reminiscent of "Kristallnacht" - the name given to the night of 9 November, 1938, when German mobs embarked on a rampage of anti-Semitic violence with the backing of Adolf Hitler's Nazi government.

The Jewish Central Consistory in Paris said it was "profoundly worried by the repeated attacks on French synagogues," and called on the government immediately to step up protection of Jewish buildings and institutions.

The attacks came during the Jewish festival of Passover and followed a surge of violence in the Middle East.

Prime Minister Lionel Jospin condemned the Lyon attack as "spineless and absurd".

"I will not accept the spread of racism and anti-Semitism in our country," he said.

President Jacques Chirac also denounced the violence but denied there was a spirit of anti-Semitism in France.

Police in various areas have strengthened security around Jewish buildings.

Israeli leaders - including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - have said French anti-Semitism is on the rise, but the government in Paris argues that the attacks are mainly the work of Muslims of North African origin and must be seen in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Marseilles has a particularly large Muslim community.

See also:

17 Apr 00 | Europe
France counts cost of Nazi era
16 Oct 00 | Europe
French Jews accuse North Africans
08 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: France
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