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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Jewish Sites in Europe Attacked

MARSEILLE, France -- More than 1,000 police were deployed in a dozen French cities Tuesday to guard Jewish religious sites and schools after the Easter weekend was marred by widespread anti-Semitic violence linked to Middle East tensions.

Thousands of Jews held prayer services near the charred remains of Marseille's Or Aviv synagogue Monday, bringing an emotional close to a religious holiday period that forced France and other European countries to confront the specter of anti-Semitism.

In Brussels, a synagogue was damaged by gasoline bombs, and police in Turkey heightened security at religious sites amid fears that violence in the Middle East could take its toll on European communities.

The arson attack late Sunday night at France's Or Aviv temple destroyed the 20-year-old synagogue, leaving it a blackened mass of wood and metal.

"We are a peaceful community," said Zvi Amar, a Jewish leader in Marseille, France's second biggest city. "We don't understand why they are attacking us." More than 3,000 people marched in silence to a cemetery near the burned synagogue Monday. There, they recited prayers of mourning and buried remnants of the temple's five holy Torah scrolls, which were destroyed in the fire.

A plaque placed on top of the burial site read: "This Is Where We Bury Our Souls."

It was the third synagogue attacked in France over the Passover-Easter weekend, and was especially embarrassing to France, which has tried hard to downplay accusations from Israel and from Jewish groups that anti-Semitism is a growing problem.

French President Jacques Chirac visited a synagogue in the northern port city of Le Havre on Monday to show his solidarity with the Jewish community.

"These acts are unimaginable, unpardonable and unspeakable and should be pursued and condemned as such," he said.

In neighboring Belgium, authorities said attackers threw gasoline bombs through the windows of a Brussels synagogue late Sunday, causing a small fire. There were no injuries or major damage.

The Belgian government promised swift action to find the arsonists and increased security at Jewish sites.

Jewish leaders in France have complained that the government's foreign policy is too pro-Palestinian and has in the past encouraged attacks on Jewish targets from among the country's Muslim population. Islam is France's second-largest religion after Roman Catholicism.

The French government argues that its policy is evenhanded.

French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin vowed Monday to stem the attacks.

"Any manifestation of anti-Semitism no matter its pretext will be extremely and firmly pursued and sanctioned," Jospin said.

Jospin said Monday evening that 1,100 police, including riot police, had been sent to reinforce officers patrolling Jewish religious sites in Lyon, Marseilles and 10 other cities.

Arab officials, meanwhile, urged the French people, mainly in Muslim communities, not to vent anger over the situation in the Middle East.

A spate of anti-Jewish attacks began in France in 2000 after fighting broke out between Israel and the Palestinians.

In other attacks in France over the weekend: Vandals set a fire at a synagogue in the eastern city of Strasbourg; hooded assailants crashed two cars into a synagogue early Saturday in Lyon; assailants opened fire at a kosher butcher's shop near Toulouse; and a Jewish couple was attacked Saturday in the Rhone region town of Villeurbanne.