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Anti-Semitic attacks changing in France

Anti-Semitic attacks changing in France
Paris — Members of a Jewish soccer team have been attacked in the first organized assault since Israel's offensive against Palestinians in the West Bank triggered a sharp rise in anti-Semitic attacks in France.

About 15 hooded attackers wielding sticks, metal bars and heavy pétanque balls beat up several members of the Maccabi soccer team late on Wednesday in Bondy, a racially mixed suburb northeast of Paris.

France, home to the largest Muslim and Jewish communities in Europe, has witnessed a sharp increase in attacks on Jewish targets since Israel launched its military offensive in the West Bank two weeks ago in an attempt to crush Palestinian extremistss.

The Bondy attack took authorities by surprise because it was the first recorded instance of a premeditated physical assault. A 15-year-old goalkeeper, who was severely beaten, said members of the gang shouted racial insults including "dirty Jew!"

"This marks a turning in anti-Semitic acts that seems to be more serious because it wasn't a chance encounter," said Patrick Gaubert, head of the anti-racist group LICRA.

"The authorities have to stop these thugs," he told Friday's edition of the daily Libération. "If this continues, I imagine the Jews will take security into their own hands. It would be very serious if part of the French nation has to provide its own protection."

Mr. Gaubert has filed a complaint with the local public prosecutor to highlight the need for arrests before the wave of unrest claims its first victim.

A pro-Israel demonstration in Paris on Sunday turned ugly when a protester seriously wounded a policeman with a knife.

Conservative President Jacques Chirac and Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, running neck and neck ahead of the April 21 presidential election, have both condemned recent acts of vandalism ranging from graffiti to Molotov cocktail attacks.

Police have stepped up patrols at potential targets including synagogues, schools and community centres, but in most cases they have failed to catch the assailants.

Mr. Gaubert expressed fear that members of the Jewish community frustrated with what they see as the lack of official response to the attacks might respond on their own.

"How long will they listen to our calls for peace, reconciliation and dialogue?" he asked.

While most of the attacks are unsolved, even Muslim leaders accept a link with the mounting violence in the Middle East. The most common theory is that the perpetrators are bored, angry young Muslim men venting their frustration on easy targets.

But Mr. Gaubert noted the rise in anti-Semitic attacks had not been as marked elsewhere in Europe, causing concern that long-ignored divisions in French society were finally surfacing.

Muslim representatives said it would be wrong to put all the blame on members of their community. The Union of Islamic Organizations of France condemned any acts of violence against a place of worship at a meeting with Jospin on Thursday.

"But we are against the fact of stigmatizing an entire community for events, the authors of which are not yet known," said Fouad Alaoui, secretary general of the union.



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