Israeli embassy in Paris destroyed by fire
By Brian Love
PARIS: The Israeli embassy in Paris was destroyed by an intense fire early on Thursday and officials said it was too early to determine the cause.
Israeli ambassador Elie Barnavi said it was most probably an accident but more investigation was needed. The building was undergoing renovation work. “We don’t rule anything out,” Barnavi told Israel Radio when asked whether terrorism was suspected.
“The investigation has not yet began. The police are here of course but they have not yet been able to enter the building. The initial assumption is that it was caused by an electric fault, but the investigation will only begin in the morning.” The blaze broke out at about 2:00 a.m. (midnight GMT) and 150 firefighters brought it under control in about two hours. Six firemen were injured. There were no injuries in the embassy.
“The embassy is totally destroyed,” Paris police chief Jean-Paul Proust told reporters. “At this moment, we have no indication of the cause of this fire.” Barnavi said nothing remained but the build’s facade.
“Basically there is no embassy anymore. That is the story, everything that was inside has been destroyed. The only thing that remains is outside of the building...everything we had, all our memory, our computers have gone,” he said on Israel Radio.
Wave of anti-semitic attacks: A recent wave of anti-Semitic attacks in France, including a threatening letter containing a bullet sent to Barnavi last month, has heightened concern about any incidents related to Jewish sites here.
“Everything concerning Israel is serious at this time,” said Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who rushed to the scene with his Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy. President Jacques Chirac telephoned Barnavi to express his concern.
“We came to express our sympathy and concern to the Israeli ambassador and Israeli people at this incident, whose cause we do not know,” Raffarin said. “For an embassy, this is a particularly cruel event, for its archives, information and all that concerns the work of the diplomats,” he said. “It’s most probably an accident,” Barnavi told reporters near the site. “We’ll know more during the day,” he said.
Firemen said the blaze in the old building was so intense that stone blocks cracked from the heat. Two firefighters hurt in the blaze were injured when the floors they were standing on collapsed, sending them falling to a lower floor. Officials had first said the building was an unoccupied structure belonging to the embassy, but Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe later told Reuters it was in fact the embassy itself.
Threat to Ambassador: He said the city would do its best to find alternative facilities for the embassy, which was located in the capital’s chic eighth district close to the Elysee presidential palace.
“Everything is being done to establish the cause of this fire,” an Elysee official said.
There has been a wave of attacks on Jewish buildings and symbols in France in recent months and officials link them to the rise in violence in the Middle East. France is home to Europe’s largest Jewish and Muslim communities.
On April 15, Barnavi told Europe 1 radio he had received a letter containing a bullet for a Magnum calibre .44 revolver but that he would not tighten personal security as a result. “It is perhaps not the most effective way to use a bullet, but it is not very pleasant,” Barnavi said.
“I am well enough protected and in general I don’t believe in absolute protection. It doesn’t exist,” he said. Police sources said in April they had reports of 10 to 12 anti-Semitic attacks in France daily, from anti-Jewish graffiti to assaults on Jews and their schools, synagogues and shops.
The attacks have prompted criticism from Jewish groups abroad, especially in the United States where some groups have called for a boycott of France and French goods. —Reuters