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Pro-Palestinian marches across France

A pro-Palestinian protester on a march in Pau
A pro-Palestinian protester on a march in Pau  

PARIS, France -- Up to 18,000 pro-Palestinian activists have marched through Paris as part of a series of demonstrations across the country condemning the surge of violence in the Middle East.

Saturday's rally was being billed as one of the largest demonstrations ever in France in support of Palestinians.

Similar pro-Palestinian marches were taking place in the cities of Grenoble, Pau, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Orleans, and Rennes.

The march, organised by pro-Palestinian, anti-racist and Communist groups, carried off peacefully as protesters headed toward the historic Place de la Bastille.

France facing anti-Semitic attacks 

On Sunday, Jewish organisations are due to march in Paris, Bordeaux, Marseille, Lyon, Strasbourg and Toulouse in support of Israel and in protest at a spate of recent anti-Jewish attacks in France.

In the latest incident -- just hours before Saturday's marches -- arsonists threw petrol bombs into a Jewish sports club in southern France, damaging furniture and sports equipment.

Police said the door to the Maccabi club, in Toulouse, was forced open and petrol-filled bottles thrown inside. No one was injured.

On Friday an unexploded home-made bomb was found in a Jewish cemetery in eastern France that had already been a target of arsonists earlier in the week.

In southern France, three men admitted throwing petrol bombs and setting ablaze a building containing a synagogue in the city of Montpellier earlier this week.

In Paris, police have questioned five suspects accused of throwing petrol bombs at a synagogue on Wednesday.

The government has condemned the anti-Semitic violence and increased police surveillance of Jewish religious sites.

President Jacques Chirac said Wednesday that France "will not accept that external conflicts pit French against French on our soil."

During Saturday's march in Paris, pro-Palestinian demonstrators called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the West Bank and urged the European Union to

halt commercial and military cooperation with Israel.

Former Rabbi Raphael Perez, right, and a relative arrive at the site of a synagogue fire in Strasbourg  

In a statement, organisers also said the march was intended to denounce racist violence against both Jews and Arabs in France and call for "a just and lasting peace" between Palestinians and Israelis.

"We are here to condemn the Palestinian occupation of the territories, but also to condemn the recent racist attack in France, against both Jews and Arabs," Jean-Claude Vessillier, a spokesman for MRAP, one of France's leading anti-racism groups, told the Associated Press.

"It is very important to us that both Jews and Arabs participate in this demonstration," he said.


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