Religious tension runs high in France after pro-Palestinian march turns violent

Rioters face riot police, following a pro-Palestinian demonstration, in Sarcelles, north of Paris. French youth defying a ban on a protest against Israel's Gaza offensive went on a rampage in a Paris suburb, setting fire to cars and garbage cans after a peaceful demonstration.AP Photo/Thibault Camus

Religious tensions are running high in France, where pro-Palestinian demonstrations turned violent on Sunday night.

Masked youths attacked synagogues, a Jewish-owned chemist and a grocery store in Sarcelles, a suburb of Paris known as 'Little Jerusalem'.

Following similar attacks the previous weekend, President Francois Hollande had banned the march, but about 400 people gathered in spite of the ban.

Rioters smashed cars, rampaged through the shopping centre and threw petrol bombs at the police, who responded by using tear gas to disperse the protest.

"What happened in Sarcelles is intolerable," said Manuel Valls, the prime minister. "An attack on a synagogue and on a kosher shop is simply anti-Semitism. Nothing in France can justify this violence."

One Jew told the Times that it was a reminder of 1938. "They were shouting: 'Death to Jews,' and 'Slit Jews' throats'," he said.

Jews suffered anti-Semitic attacks throughout the 1930s, resulting in 75,000 French Jews being sent to Nazi concentration camps.

Mr Hollande said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could not be "imported" to France.

Peaceful marches and militant demonstrations – some pro-Palestinian, others pro-Israeli – have been happening since early July, when the recent upsurge in violence in Gaza began.

The centre-right opposition party, UMP, supported the government's ban on the protests in Paris.

However, some pro-Palestinian and left-wing groups have been critical of it, including members of Mr Hollande's Socialist party.

The National Front, France's most right-wing political party, known for its anti-immigration stance, also criticised the ban.

There are now about 500,000 Jews in France, compared with 5 million Muslims – Europe's largest Muslim population.

Jewish leaders in France have complained of growing intolerance in recent months, which included a firebomb being thrown at the entrance to a synagogue last week. A number of Jewish families are choosing to leave France for Israel.