Toulouse synagogue 248 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
Signs are mounting that the conflict in Gaza is starting to spill over into violence in Europe's towns and cities, with assaults against Jews and arson attacks on Jewish congregations in France, Sweden and Britain.
Assailants rammed a burning car into the gates of a synagogue in Toulouse, in southwest France, on Monday night.
A Jewish congregation in Helsingborg, in southern Sweden, also was attacked Monday night by someone who "broke a window and threw in something that was burning," said police spokesman Leif Nilsson. Neighbors alerted rescue services before the fire took hold.
Someone also started a blaze outside the premises last week. And on Sunday slogans including "murderers ... You broke the cease-fire" and "don't subject Palestine to ethnic cleansing" were daubed on Israel's embassy in Stockholm.
France has Western Europe's largest Jewish and Muslim communities and a history of anti-Semitic violence flaring when tensions in the Middle East are high. In 2002, some 2,300 Jews left France for Israel because they felt unsafe.
President Nicolas Sarkozy warned in a statement Tuesday that France would not tolerate violence linked to the Gaza crisis.
A day earlier, his interior minister said she was concerned about the prospect of an escalation and met with the heads of the two main Muslim and Jewish groups and police officials to stress the need to "preserve national unity."
Damage to the synagogue in Toulouse was limited to a blackened gate, and there were no injuries, even though a rabbi was giving a course to adults inside, authorities said.
They said unlighted gasoline bombs were also found in a car nearby and in the synagogue's yard.
A local Jewish leader, Armand Partouche, said he believed the assailants had planned to torch the synagogue, but fled when the building's alarm went off.
"It could have been very, very serious," Partouche said in a telephone interview. "There were people inside; there could have been deaths."
He said Jewish leaders are asking Toulouse authorities for reinforced security for the city's synagogues.
"We really fear that anti-Semitism will spring up again and that the current conflict will be transposed to our beautiful French republic," he said.
Meanwhile, anti-Semitic incidents have risen sharply in the UK, according to a Jewish community organization.
The Community Security Trust (CST) - a charity charged with the security of the Jewish community and the only British group that collects, analyzes, and publishes anti-Semitism statistics - has reported 25 separate incidents relating to Gaza.
The trust reported several incidents of offensive graffiti across the country in the last week.
"Jihad 4 Israel" graffiti was found on six different locations across London and "Kill Jews" graffiti was scrawled on a bus stop in Jewish neighborhood of Temple Fortune.
"Jihad is the only solution for Palestine" was written on the door of a north London synagogue.
Last Wednesday evening, a gang of 15-20 youths, variously reported as "Middle Eastern" and "Asian," marched down Golders Green High Road, in a predominantly Jewish area of London, shouting "Free, Free Palestine."
They reportedly also attempted to enter some kosher restaurants.
Last Thursday, on the same street, a group of Asian males drove a car shouting "Death to the Jews," "Jews should be killed" and "Jewish bastards."
There was also an attempt to set fire to a synagogue in Brondesbury, northwest London, on Sunday night. The attackers tried to smash a window but were prevented from doing so by a security film. They then attempted to set the synagogue door on fire using gasoline.
Police, the fire brigade, and members of CST arrived at the scene but no arrests were made.
"The rise in the number of anti-Semitic incidents can be attributed to the hysteria whipped up against Israel and this leads to the blurring of the line between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism," Mark Gardner, CST's head of communications said.
In Belgium, the government on Tuesday ordered police in Antwerp and Brussels to be on increased alert after recent pro-Palestinian protests ended in violence and dozens of arrests.
Police said burning rags were shoved through the mailbox of a Jewish home in Antwerp last weekend. Damage was limited and no arrests were made.
In Denmark, a 27-year-old Dane born in Lebanon of Palestinian parents is alleged to have wounded two young Israelis last week, opening fire with a handgun in a shooting that police suspect could be linked to the Gaza crisis.
One Israeli man was shot in the arm and another in the leg as they were selling hair-care products in a shopping mall.
Eli Ruvio, who owns the company that operated the stands, said his employees have been harassed by Muslim youths since they set up three kiosks in the shopping center in August.
"They kept cursing and shouting at us," Ruvio told The Associated Press.
He added that the Muslim youths also threw mud and firecrackers at the employees and spat at them.
Ruvio recalled an episode December 27 when some of the youths shouted "slaughter all the Jews."
"I told my employees not to speak in Hebrew and lie about where they come from, they should say they were from Spain or somewhere else. If people ask you where you are from, never say you're from Israel," he said.