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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 August, 2004, 13:17 GMT 14:17 UK
Jewish-run centre burned in Paris
Officials visit the damaged Jewish community centre in Paris
The soup kitchen was on the ground floor of a five-storey building
French President Jacques Chirac has condemned an attack on a Jewish-run soup kitchen in Paris.

Swastikas were daubed on the walls of the kitchen which was then set alight in the early hours of Sunday morning.

It was the latest in a string of similar attacks against the Jewish community that has been denounced by the French government.

The soup kitchen, which provided food for the capital's needy and homeless, was gutted in the fire.

In a statement, Mr Chirac underlined "the absolute determination of the state to find the perpetrators of these unacceptable acts".

Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin visited the centre to examine the damage and promised to punish those responsible.

Rising attacks

Firefighters were called to the soup kitchen, located on the ground floor of a five-storey residential block in the 11th arrondissement, in the early hours of the morning.

They managed to extinguish the fire within an hour and no-one was injured.

A representative for the Jewish representative council in France told the AFP news agency that those who had defaced and damaged the centre had been motivated by Jewish hatred.

The BBC's Allan Little in Paris says the reaction of two senior government figures is a measure of the level of concern about a rise in anti-Semitic actions and sentiment in the country.

France is home to the largest Jewish community in Europe with some 800,000 people.

According to figures from the interior ministry, the number of racist and anti-Semitic attacks soared in the first half of 2004.

More than 300 graves have been defaced in the east of the country since April and in August vandals desecrated 60 graves at a Jewish cemetery in the city of Lyon.

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