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Monday, 1 April, 2002, 14:23 GMT 15:23 UK
French Jews demand protection
A man prays at the site of the Marseille synagogue
The Jewish Community warns of a wave of anti-Semitism
The Jewish community in France has demanded greater protection for Jews and their property after a series of weekend attacks which saw a Marseille synagogue burnt down.

Ruins of Marseille synagogue
The Marseille synagogue was burned to the ground
Without government action against the spate of attacks, Jews would be subject to the kind of anti-Semitism seen in 1930s Germany, the Union of Jewish Communities in France said.

French President Jacques Chirac has condemned the violence and vowed to "find and severely punish" the attackers. On Monday he visited a synagogue in Le Havre as a sign of solidarity.

In the wave of attacks across France, shots were fired at a kosher butcher's and two other synagogues were damaged. In Belgium, Molotov cocktails were thrown at a synagogue.

Ethnic tensions transposed

In Marseille, the prefect, Yvon Ollivier, ordered 120 riot police to secure the 42 other synagogues and 17 Jewish schools in the city.

"I call on the Jewish community to remain calm. The state intends to do the maximum to ensure the security of these places," he said.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is being transposed into the most troubled districts of our capital

Jacques Simonet
Mayor of Anderlecht
President Chirac is due to meet Interior Minister Daniel Vaillant to discuss security measures.

Prime Minister Lionel Jospin said he would not "accept the spread of racism and anti-Semitism in our country".

But Jewish leaders have said that there has been a worrying rise in anti-Semitism since the escalation of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

They accuse the government of complacency over past attacks.

Without decisive action, Jews would have to consider they were "living through the warning signs of a fresh Kristallnacht," the Union of Jewish Communities in France said, referring to the night in 1938, when German mobs embarked on a rampage of anti-Semitic violence with the backing of Adolf Hitler's Nazi government.

The group also voiced concern about anti-Semitism expressed at pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

Molotov cocktails were thrown through the windows of the Orthodox Community of Brussels synagogue
A synagogue in Brussels was also targeted
The Palestinian Authority's representative in France, Leila Shahid, condemned the attacks as "unacceptable", saying "our fight is a national fight".

France has Europe's largest Jewish and Muslim communities.

In Belgium, the increased tension in the Middle East has also been blamed for an attack on a synagogue in the Anderlecht district of Brussels.

"There really is a climate of hostility which is resulting in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict being transposed into the most troubled districts of our capital," said local mayor Jacques Simonet.

Series of attacks

In total, over the weekend four synagogues were attacked and several other Jewish targets singled out, though no-one was seriously injured.

  • The Marseille synagogue was apparently doused in petrol before being burnt to the ground.

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

  • Petrol bombs were thrown at the windows of a synagogue in Anderlecht, in Brussels.

  • 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.

  • A Jewish school was broken into in Sarcelles, north of Paris.

  • A Jewish couple was assaulted in the town of Villeurbanne, in the Rhone region, causing the woman to spend the night in hospital.
The BBC's James Coomarasary
"It will be hard for the authorities now to pretend there isn't a problem"
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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