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French, Belgian synagogues burned

A police officer photographs a Torah after a fire destroyed a synagogue in Marseille  

MARSEILLE, France -- A fire destroyed a synagogue in southern France during a weekend that saw a rash of attacks targeting Jews in France and Belgium, police say.

No injuries were reported at the 20-year-old Marseille synagogue, which also had been the target of a gasoline bomb last October.

The Sunday night blaze broke out shortly after police completed a patrol of the synagogue, located in a housing project, as part of heightened security measures at Jewish religious sites.

"All the religious objects, books, the Torah, all of it burned," Sydney Maimoun, the synagogue's president, told The Associated Press, adding there's "really nothing left."

Police declined comment on the fire's cause until they investigated further.

Meanwhile in Belgium, unknown attackers hurled firebombs at a synagogue in Brussels, damaging its interior.

Two firebombs were thrown into the building in the Anderlecht district of Brussels around midnight on Sunday, Belgian police were quoted by RTBF radio as saying. No one was injured in the attack.

Two areas of the building's first floor were slightly damaged by fire, which burned the floor and some benches, Reuters quoted eyewitnesses as saying.

The attacks occurred amid a backdrop of increasing violence in the Middle East.

Eddy Boutmans, Belgium's secretary of state for development and cooperation, condemned the Brussels attack.

Former Rabbi Raphael Perez, right, and a relative arrive at the site of a synagogue fire in Strasbourg  

"There can be differences about how to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict but there can be no question of racism, anti-Semitism or fanaticism," Boutmans said in a statement quoted by the Belga news agency.

"The principle of an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth cannot be applied in Belgium. Let peace reign here between people of different origins and beliefs."

Leaders of Belgium's Jewish community have complained of a recent rise in anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli propaganda.

In France, the Marseille fire was one of a series of anti-Semitic weekend attacks, including arson fires at synagogues in Strasbourg and Lyon.

In Strasbourg, vandals set fire to the front doors of a synagogue on Saturday night, charring its facade before firefighters extinguished the blaze, The Associated Press reported.

In Lyon, hooded vandals crashed two cars through the main gate of a synagogue early Saturday and set fire to one of the vehicles inside the temple's sanctuary, according to the AP.

Late Saturday, a gunman opened fire on a kosher butcher's shop near Toulouse. The owner was in the shop at the time but was unharmed. There were no injuries in the synagogue attacks.

In the Rhone region town of Villeurbanne, a Jewish couple in their 20s were injured in an attack Saturday, according to Le Journal du Dimanche. The woman, who is pregnant, was reportedly hospitalised overnight.

In Sarcelles, in the Val d'Oise region north of Paris, a Jewish school was broken into during the weekend, police told the AP. They said minor damage was reported at the school, which had been robbed in July.

French President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin condemned the attacks.




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