French President Jacques Chirac has condemned an attack on a Jewish-run soup kitchen in Paris. Swastikas were daubed on the walls of the kitchen which was then set alight in the early hours of Sunday morning. It was the latest in a string of similar attacks against the Jewish community that has been denounced by the French government. The soup kitchen, which provided food for the capital's needy and homeless, was gutted in the fire. In a statement, Mr Chirac underlined "the absolute determination of the state to find the perpetrators of these unacceptable acts". Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin visited the centre to examine the damage and promised to punish those responsible. Firefighters were called to the soup kitchen, located on the ground floor of a five-storey residential block in the 11th arrondissement, in the early hours of the morning. They managed to extinguish the fire within an hour and no-one was injured. A representative for the Jewish representative council in France told the AFP news agency that those who had defaced and damaged the centre had been motivated by Jewish hatred. France is home to the largest Jewish community in Europe with some 800,000 people. According to figures from the interior ministry, the number of racist and anti-Semitic attacks soared in the first half of 2004. More than 300 graves have been defaced in the east of the country since April and in August vandals desecrated 60 graves at a Jewish cemetery in the city of Lyon, informs BBC NEWS. According to Independent, An arson attack destroyed a Jewish social club in the heart of Paris yesterday, alarming and infuriating French politicians and Jewish leaders who are struggling to halt an epidemic of anti-Semitic incidents across France. Before it was set alight, anti-Jewish graffiti and swastikas were scrawled on the walls of the social centre on the first floor of a building in the 11th arrondissement in eastern Paris, near the Place de la Bastille. No one was injured and the fire was halted before it spread to the rest of the building. Nonetheless, politicians - led by President Jacques Chirac - expressed outrage that such a potentially murderous attack should be made on the Jewish community in the heart of the French capital. President Chirac spoke of his "profound indignation" and promised that the arsonists would be hunted down and "punished with the greatest possible severity". Jewish leaders expressed impatience, however, that little progress has been made in tracing the perpetrators of other anti-Semitic incidents in France this year, including a series of graffiti attacks on Jewish cemeteries and the destruction of a frieze painted by Jewish children in a wartime transit camp near Perpignan. Most of the verbal and low-level physical attacks on Jews in France are carried out by youths of Arab origin, who support the Palestinian cause and make no distinction between Jews and Israelis. But the cemetery attacks and yesterday's fire at the community centre bear the hallmarks of the neo-Nazi and white supremacist ultra-right, several groups of whom operate on the fringes of French society. Xinhua News reports that the fire was set around 3:00 am local time (0100 GMT) on Sunday,gutting about 100 square meters of the 300 square meters of the Jewish center situated on the ground floor of a five-storey residential building in center Paris. Some 50 firemen of six fire stations arrived and extinguished the fire within an hour from the alarm call and there were no casualties, according to the firemen. Besides swastikas in red ink, some anti-Semitic slogans read "Without Jews, we would be happy," according to the police. President Jacques Chirac strongly condemned in a statement "the indescribable act," extending all his solidarity to the center's functionary and staff, as well as to all the Jewish community in France. He also emphasized "the absolute determination of the state to find the perpetrators of these unacceptable acts so they are judged and sentenced as severely as possible."
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