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Italy's tiny Jewish community chose a new leader on Sunday, a day before a planned Rome rally to gather support for Israel as the fighting escalates in the Middle East.
Renzo Gattegna, a 67-year-old lawyer in Rome, was elected to head the Union of Italian Jewish Communities. He replaces Claudio Morpurgo, who returns to the vice presidency after serving as president following the resignation of an earlier president, Amos Luzzatto, for health reasons.
Jewish leaders decided Sunday to organize the rally to show solidarity with Israel amid the violence.
Israel has bombed Beirut and other places in Lebanon, and guerrillas in northern Lebanon have fired rockets into the northern Israeli city of Haifa. The Israeli military is also clashing with Palestinian militants to the south, in Gaza, as it fights to protect southern Israel.
The Jewish union's council, which elected Gattegna, also called on the Italian government to press for the release of kidnapped Israeli soldiers as well as to work for the disarming of Hezbollah guerrillas who have been launching attacks against Israel, the Italian news agency Apcom said.
Italy generally has good economic and political relations in the Middle East, and Premier Romano Prodi relayed to Lebanon's prime minister Israel's conditions for stopping its assault on Lebanon, the Lebanese government said Sunday.
Among those pledging to turn out for the rally Monday night in front of Rome's main synagogue were Paolo Bonaiuti, a top aide to former conservative Premier Silvio Berlusconi, and centrist politicians from the center-left parties in Prodi's coalition, community spokesman Riccardo Pacifici said.
Italy's Jews number about 30,000 in a country where most of its citizens are Roman Catholic, and community leaders have been waging a campaign against anti-Semitism.
Last week, a swastika and other graffiti were scrawled on doors and walls in a Jewish neighborhood in Rome as soccer fans filled the city's streets to celebrate Italy's World Cup triumph. Prodi condemned the anti-Semitic graffiti and promised intolerance for such gestures.