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Wednesday, 3 April, 2002, 18:18 GMT 19:18 UK
French Jews fear more violence
A man prayers behind broken glass at one of the attacked synagogues
Jews say the attacks may be linked to the Middle East crisis
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By Jamie Coomarasamy
BBC correspondent in Paris
line
A synagogue in Marseille burnt to the ground, another in Lyon damaged by ram raiders.


For more than a year we have been contacting Mr Chirac, Mr Jospin - every member of the government. But they have been saying - it's nothing, you're too anxious, without any reality

Moishe Cohen, Jewish leader
Two of the events of the past few days, which have left France's Jews with a sense of foreboding, but also of loss.

A worshipper at the Marseille synagogue said there was a living flame here, adding that "it's as if we've lost a brother".

France's political leaders have also been in mourning.

Both President Chirac and Prime Minister Jospin were at a ceremony on Tuesday for the eight councillors shot dead by a suicidal gunmen in Nanterre last week.

But if they could have done little to stop such a random act, Jewish leaders, such as Moishe Cohen, say the authorities could have done more to prevent the anti-semitic attacks.


When a synagogue is burnt, France is humiliated. When a Jew is attacked, the whole of France is attacked

President Jacques Chirac
"For more than a year we have been contacting Mr Chirac, Mr Jospin - every member of the government. But they have been saying - it's nothing, you're too anxious, without any reality.

"But now - after what happened, especially in Marseilles - they have to open their eyes. They are becoming conscious".

'French characteristic'

Mr Cohen was one of the community leaders expressing his concern and anger at a local Jewish radio station.

Ruins of Marseille synagogue
The Marseille synagogue was burnt to the ground

The general consensus here was that the weekend wave of violence was connected to the escalation of events in the Middle East.

And it is not just paranoia, says Sarah Pellet, employee at the government's statistical office, who has just published the annual report into anti-semitism and other forms of racial violence.

"The figures that we are publishing every year show us that every time there is a crisis in the Middle East, acts of violence and threats of an anti-semitic nature are increasing, which is a French characteristic".

The characteristic of a country with 700,000 Jews - Europe's largest number - who live side by side with almost four million Muslims.

Jewish fears

It is partly for this reason that - in the past - leaders have tried to play down the violence, but are now being forced to act.

And Jewish leaders fear things are going to get worse.

"So many attacks during the same time, the same weekend - following the events in Israel, in Palestine make us think there is a plan," Moishe Cohen said.

"Maybe we are wrong, I don't know. We don't get any information from the government, the police..."

They may be in the middle of an election campaign, but both Prime Minister Jospin and President Chirac have put aside their rivalries and condemned the attacks.

"When a synagogue is burnt, France is humiliated. When a Jew is attacked, the whole of France is attacked," Mr Chirac said.

But French leaders know that words of solidarity alone will not solve the problem - and events in the Middle East alone can not explain it.

See also:

01 Apr 02 | Europe
French Jews demand protection
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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