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New anti-Semitic attack in France

Scene of a recent arson attack at a synagogue in Strasbourg  

STRASBOURG, France -- French police are investigating the latest in a wave of anti-Semitic attacks that have flared up since Israel launched its military offensive in the West Bank.

France's 600,000-strong Jewish community -- the largest in western Europe -- has been the target of hundreds of anti-Semitic attacks since increased violence broke out in the Middle East in 2000.

In the latest incident, vandals defaced a Jewish cemetery in Strasbourg.

Swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans were daubed in paint on about 20 tombstones and on a wall, police said on Saturday.

France facing anti-Semitic attacks 
Pro-Palestinian marches across France 

An inquiry has been launched into the desecration, the fourth at a Jewish site in the Cronenbourg section of Strasbourg this month.

An unexploded bomb was found at another Cronenbourg cemetery after an arson attack there and a fire at a nearby synagogue. Two men are being questioned in connection with those attacks.

President Jacques Chirac has said France "will not accept that external conflicts pit French against French on our soil."

Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin said: "If we want to talk about peace in the Middle East, we have to show first that we are capable of living peacefully together at home.

Labour Minister Elisabeth Guigou -- whose portfolio includes issues such as integration of young people -- has backed the idea of a mass demonstration organised by the Jewish and Muslim communities for peace in the Middle East.

"We should show that the overwhelming majority of French, whatever their religion, want peace in the Middle East, civil peace and dialogue in France," she told the daily Le Monde on Saturday.

However, there has been a series of incidents across the country.

Earlier this week, members of a Jewish boys' football team in Paris were beaten with metal bars and heavy metal petanque balls.

On Thursday, a crowd burst into a city council meeting in Melun, east of Paris, to demand a minute's silence for Palestinian victims of the Middle East conflict.

After some discussion, the municipal council agreed to the demand -- but for all of the conflict's victims.

Also on Thursday, three players in an amateur soccer team founded to bring together France's North African community -- Jews and Muslims -- quit because of its pro-Israel stance.

The AS Menora club, in Strasbourg, was started in 1963 by Jean Kahn, a former president of CRIF, an umbrella organisation of Jewish community groups.

Last Sunday, pro-Israeli marches were held across several French cities, with an estimated 150,000 people taking to the streets in Paris to denounce the wave of recent attacks on Jewish schools, cemeteries and synagogues.

Waving Israeli flags and draped in the blue and white colours of the national banner, marchers gathered at the Place de la Republique chanting in French and Hebrew and carrying signs that read "Yesterday New York, today Jerusalem, tomorrow Paris."

Hours before those marches, attackers threw petrol bombs at police guarding the Merlan Synagogue, in Marseilles.

The day before, on April 6, pro-Palestinian marches were held in Paris, Grenoble, Pau, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Orleans, and Rennes.

The demonstrators called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the West Bank and urged the European Union to halt commercial and military cooperation with Israel.

The same day, arsonists threw petrol bombs into a Jewish sports club in Toulouse, damaging furniture and sports equipment.

On April 5, an unexploded home-made bomb was found in a Jewish cemetery in eastern France that had already been a target of arsonists earlier in the week.

In southern France, three men admitted throwing petrol bombs and setting ablaze a building containing a synagogue in the city of Montpellier.

On March 31, a synagogue in the city of Marseille was burned to the ground.


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