January 14, 2009 / 7:13 PM / 10 years ago

Sarkozy vows "zero tolerance" for Gaza hate crimes

ORLEANS, France (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged “zero tolerance” for anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim acts in France as a series of incidents apparently related to Israel’s offensive in Gaza continued.

“Those who want to import violence between different communities into France will find the state on their tracks,” Sarkozy said on Wednesday at a New Year’s address to police in the town of Orleans in central France.

Sarkozy’s comments, which echo remarks he and senior ministers have made over recent days, reflect the government’s concern to prevent anger over the conflict in Gaza spilling over into violence in France.

“The level of tolerance will be zero tolerance,” Sarkozy said. “We will not let the consequences of this conflict be imported into France.”

Jewish organisations say there have been dozens of attacks against synagogues and other Jewish sites since Israel began its bombardment of Gaza last month with the declared aim of ending rocket attacks from the region run by Hamas militants.

Violence against Muslims has also been reported.

This week, police opened an investigation into the case of three young people of North African origin who said they were attacked by pro-Israel militants outside a school in the smart 16th district of Paris.

The three said they were assaulted by activists of the radical Jewish Defence League who were distributing tracts.

France’s main Jewish association CRIF condemned the attack on Wednesday and urged authorities to catch the perpetrators as quickly as possible.

France is home to Europe’s biggest Muslim and Jewish communities and in recent years, flare-ups between Israel and the Palestinians have often been followed by acts of violence against Jewish people or buildings in France.

On Wednesday, further graffiti attacks on synagogues were reported, with a swastika scrawled on a synagogue in the northern city of Lille and anti-Israel slogans written on another in the eastern city of Mulhouse.

The incidents follow petrol bomb attacks on synagogues in Saint Denis, near Paris and Toulouse in recent days.

Violence has also marred demonstrations in which tens of thousands have marched in protest against the Israeli campaign.

Writing by James Mackenzie; editing by Philippa Fletcher

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