Arson feared in Swiss synagogue fire

Torah scroll survives; congregants celebrate Shavuot in damaged structure.

geneva synagogue fire (photo credit: AP)
geneva synagogue fire
(photo credit: AP)
Fire caused major damage to one of Geneva's synagogues early Thursday, and police said they suspect arson. More than 40 firefighters were needed to extinguish the blaze, which broke out at 5 a.m. in the Hekhal Haness Synagogue in Geneva's Malagnou neighborhood. The fire was under control in an hour, but the blaze and smoke appeared to have destroyed most of the interior of the building, police spokesman Philippe Cosandey said. "It's not clear whether the fire originated inside or outside the building or whether the fire was set," Cosandey told The Associated Press. But he added that investigators are presuming it may be arson because there appeared to be several sources of the fire. Nobody was injured in the incident, police said. It was too early to give a damage estimate, said Cosandey. There have been incidents of anti-Semitism in Geneva, including graffiti scrawled on a synagogue last year. Although the windows and doors at the entrance were destroyed and the interior was blackened, a group of worshippers was praying in an inner courtyard to celebrate Shavuot Thursday morning. They used the Torah scroll that apparently survived the fire. The library on the first floor of the synagogue was destroyed by the fire, Jose de Matos - who works as a keeper at the synagogue - told the AP. The main prayer room was not damaged, according to an AP reporter who was given access to the building. "Nothing valuable protected inside the prayer room was damaged," de Matos said. The main entrance was completely burnt out, with windows blown out and walls blackened by smoke. Police were removing wood and rubble from the entrance. A heavy smell of smoke hung in the air. As the prayer service ended, members of the Jewish community were discussing how to arrange a wedding scheduled at the synagogue for Sunday.