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Thursday, 23 May, 2002, 05:55 GMT 06:55 UK
Fire guts Israeli embassy in Paris
French firefighters
Firefighters arrived within minutes
Several firemen have been injured in a fire which gutted the Israeli embassy in Paris.

More than 30 fire engines were called to tackle the blaze, which broke out in the early hours of the morning.


It's tragic, tens of years of work disappearing under our eyes

Ambassador Eli Barnavi
French police said first indications suggested the fire was accidental, and ambassador Eli Barnavi said it had probably been caused by an electrical fault.

The five-storey building had been undergoing renovation when the fire started, at around 0200 local time (midnight GMT). It was extinguished several hours later.

The French Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, went to the scene, along with Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy and the Mayor of Paris.

"Everything that concerns Israel is serious in the period we are now in," Mr Raffarin said.

"We're aware of that and we stand together."

President Chirac also expressed his concern to Mr Barnavi.

'Tragedy'

The ambassador said firefighters arrived on the scene within minutes, but the flames spread rapidly, destroying four of the five floors of the embassy.

"It's tragic, tens of years of work disappearing under our eyes," he said.

He added that Foreign Ministry officials would arrive in Paris on Thursday, but that French police would carry out the investigation.

France has been the scene of a number of attacks on synagogues and other Jewish institutions over the past few months.

Mr Barnavi told French radio on 15 April that he had received a Magnum revolver bullet through the post.

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