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Video by Luke SHRAGO

Latest update : 2009-01-14

President Nicolas Sarkozy and religious leaders on Monday condemned a petrol bomb attack on a French synagogue, the latest in a spate of anti-Semitic violence since the start of Israel's Gaza offensive.

REUTERS - President Nicolas Sarkozy and religious leaders on Monday condemned a petrol bomb attack on a French synagogue, the latest in a spate of anti-Semitic violence since the start of Israel's Gaza offensive.

Vandals hurled nine firebombs at the Ohr Menahem synagogue in the ethnically mixed Paris suburb of Saint-Denis late Sunday, sparking a fire in the next-door kosher restaurant, local police said.

The rabbi and other people were inside the synagogue when the fire broke out, but no-one was injured. Initial police reports had said two petrol bombs were thrown.

The attack came less than a week after a synagogue in the southern city of Toulouse was targeted, while a Jewish prayer room in eastern France also suffered minor damage after vandals threw fire-bombs late Sunday.

During a meeting with religious leaders, Sarkozy "condemned in the strongest terms this inadmissible violence, using the conflict as a pretext, against people, private property and religious buildings," the presidency said.

Sarkozy said the attacks would "not go unpunished," and vowed to oppose attempts "to transpose on French territory an international conflict that France is working to resolve, with all of its strength."

France has been on edge since Israel stepped up its offensive against the Islamist Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip as the death toll has climbed to more than 900 in the third week of fighting.

Home to Europe's biggest Jewish and Muslim communities, France has been rocked by major pro-Palestinian protests and pro-Israeli rallies in recent weeks while surveys show public opinion is divided on the conflict.

On Monday, police found anti-Semitic graffiti -- "Kill the Jews", "Free Gaza" and "Long Live Palestine" -- daubed on a wall near the local mosque in Le Puy en Velay, an important site for Catholic pilgrims in southern-central France.

In a suburb of the eastern city of Strasbourg, police found three shattered petrol-filled bottles outside a Jewish prayer room, alerted by a resident who spotted black smoke marks on the wall.

Four teenagers from the rough Paris suburb of Villiers-le-Bel were charged last week with beating a Jewish schoolgirl and taunting her over the Israeli offensive in Gaza.

One of her attackers allegedly told her: "We don't like what your brothers are doing in Gaza," according to lawyers.

After meeting with local Jewish leaders, the mayor of Saint-Denis condemned the "intolerable" attack on the synagogue and called a demonstration for Monday evening to show public outrage over the violence.

French Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie vowed no effort would be spared "to find the perpetrators of the attack and have them answer before justice for this intolerable act."

She later said security would be beefed up around places of worship.

The president of the central consistory of French Jews, Joel Mergui, expressed "anger" over the attack and denounced "a succession of threats and dangerous acts against the Jewish community across France."

A spokesman for the governing UMP party called for "severe punishment" to be handed down to those found guilty of hate violence while several anti-racism groups appealed for calm.

"Let's not let the Middle East conflict spill over to France," said the Jewish students union in their appeal.

The head of the Paris Grand Mosque, Dalil Boubakeur, appealed to French Muslims to "maintain calm in the face of strong emotions" unleashed by the war in Gaza.

Date created : 2009-01-13