Security heightened at British synagogues

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The Independent Online

Jewish schools, synagogues and businesses are stepping up security after anti-Semitic attacks in France and Belgium.

The police presence in Jewish areas has been reinforced, and volunteers are being trained to support security guards at synagogues.

Jewish schools, which already have round-the-clock security, have been told to maintain a state of high alert, and Orthodox Jews and rabbis have been warned to be vigilant. Police fear an outbreak of violence to coincide with next week's anniversary of Israeliindependence.

Security measures are being co-ordinated by the Community Security Trust, a charity set up to protect British Jews and train them in defensive techniques.

A spokeswoman for the trust said she was concerned that attacks on Jews in Europe could "spill over on to the streets of Britain".

"In view of current events in the Middle East and incidents in France and Belgium in the last week, the Jewish community has been asked to increase its level of awareness of security issues," she said.

There have been at least 11 attacks on Jews in France and three elsewhere in Europe that have been a direct response to events in the Middle East.

French police blamed fundamentalist Muslims from north Africa after a synagogue in Marseilles was burnt to the ground destroying five Torah scrolls. Several other synagogues were firebombed.

The Home Office has met Jewish leaders to discuss their concerns and has been sent a dossier of anti-Semitic incidents that shows a sharp increase in the number of attacks on Jews in Britain.

There were 310 anti-Semitic incidents reported in the UK last year and 405 the year before. In October 2000, when there was an upsurge in tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, attacks on British Jews rose by 400 per cent.

Last night, the Board of Deputies of British Jews said it was "very concerned at the increasing blurring of the lines between matters Jewish and matters Israeli".

Fiona Macaulay, the board's spokeswoman, said: "Britain's 280,000 Jews are British citizens ... They cannot be held accountable for any action taken by the government of another country. To ask them to do so simply because they are Jewish is totally unacceptable."

The Metropolitan Police said yesterday that it had taken note of the concerns of the Jewish community and had increased its presence in Jewish areas in the run-up to Israel Independence Day next Wednesday. A spokeswoman said: "We are constantly working with security groups and the Community Security Trust to carry out risk assessments. We have increased the community safety patrol in preparation for the celebration of independence next week."