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Synagogue at Saint-Denis
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Rabbis near synagogue
Photo: AP
Paris area synagogue firebombed
Two Molotov cocktails break window of Chabad House, building surrounded by gas bombs, in latest in series of anti-Semitic attacks in France as Middle East tensions rise

Two Molotov cocktails were hurled at a synagogue north of Paris, the latest attack in what the interior minister said Monday is a new wave of anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim attacks over the violence in Gaza.

 

President Nicolas Sarkozy met with French religious leaders and reiterated the need to avoid "transposing" onto French soil a foreign conflict that France has been working to ease, his office said.

 

In the latest attacks, firebombs broke a window and charred the walls of a pizzeria on the ground floor at Chabad House Ohr Manahem, in the town of Saint-Denis, said Rabbi Isroeil Belinow, the synagogue's assistant rabbi.

 

Three more unexploded Molotov cocktails were still lodged Monday in the thatched roof of a children's play area that is part of the Chabad House complex. Belinow said police found 15 other unignited gasoline bombs nearby. No injuries were reported.

 

Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said France has faced a "very clear increase" in anti-Semitic attacks as well as a "new wave of acts against our Muslim countrymen" since Israel started an offensive against the militant group Hamas in Gaza on Dec. 27 in response to rocket attacks.

 

"We must do everything to stop the importation into our country of the situation that's taking place in the Middle East," Alliot-Marie told RTL Radio. "I am not worried, but I'm vigilant."

 

She declined to provide specific figures on the increase, though she insisted police have been given "very precise instructions" about protecting religious sites and places of worship.

 

France has Western Europe's largest Jewish and Muslim populations, and Middle East tensions have in the past spilled over into vandalism or other incidents.

 

In the Chabad House attack, prayers had just finished and the rabbi was getting ready to go home Sunday night when he heard an explosion, said Belinow. Neighbors saw flames and called police.

 

France's Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim denounced the incident. "We call on the religious community leaders ... to do everything so that others' religions and their sites are respected," he said.

 

A volunteer at the synagogue, Samuel Bounan, lamented what he called a "regrettable" act as he showed visitors around the damaged pizzeria. "There never were any incidents like this before," he said.

 

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