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French minister slams "anti-Semitic" Gaza protests

France's interior minister Monday slammed "intolerable" acts of anti-Semitism after a rally against Israel's Gaza offensive descended into violence pitting an angry pro-Palestinian crowd against local Jewish businesses.

SARCELLES, France: French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Monday slammed "intolerable" acts of anti-Semitism after a rally against Israel's Gaza offensive descended into violence pitting an angry pro-Palestinian crowd against local Jewish businesses.

Sunday's demonstration in the north Paris suburb of Sarcelles was the third in a week to erupt in violence, as shops were looted and riot police lobbed tear gas and rubber bullets at the crowd. The rally had been banned amid concern the Jewish community would be targeted after protesters last weekend tried to storm two synagogues in Paris.

"Nothing can justify the violence," said Valls, who was France's interior minister before being promoted in a cabinet reshuffle in March. "What happened in Sarcelles is intolerable: to attack a synagogue or a kosher grocery is simply anti-Semitism and racism," he said. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve also denounced the violence in similar terms.

In the Paris suburb sometimes nicknamed "little Jerusalem" for its large community of Sephardic Jews, the rally descended into chaos when dozens of youths -- some masked -- set fire to bins and lit firecrackers and smoke bombs. Eighteen people were arrested after looters wrecked shops, including a kosher foodstore and a funeral home, as protesters shouted: "Fuck Israel!".

"We have never seen such an outpouring of hatred and violence in Sarcelles," said mayor Francois Pupponi. "This morning people are stunned, and the Jewish community is afraid."

The violence in Sarcelles mirrored that of another banned rally on Saturday in Paris, where a protest spiralled out of control, leading to clashes with riot police and dozens of arrests.

Israel's blistering Gaza offensive has deeply polarised opinion in a country that counts the largest Muslim population in western Europe and a huge Jewish community. The bans have drawn controversy as the rallies took place anyway and turned violent, while authorised ones elsewhere in the country -- as well as across Europe -- were peaceful.

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