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Israeli Embassy in Paris Destroyed by Fire - 2002-05-23

The Israeli Embassy in Paris has been completely destroyed by a fire that broke out early Thursday morning. The cause is under investigation although authorities think it was an accident. There will be a careful investigation into the fire, in part because of a recent series of anti-Semitic incidents in France.

Soon after the fire was reported in the early morning hours, flames were shooting out of the embassy's first floor windows. The fire, described as hot enough to shatter the building stones, quickly spread to four other floors. It took 150 firefighters more than two hours to control the fire, and several of them were injured doing so.

No one from the embassy was reported hurt. Several neighboring apartments on the exclusive side street near the Champs Elysees had to be evacuated.

The cause is under investigation by the police, the judiciary and a special laboratory. French authorities are well aware that several synagogues and Jewish school buses in France have been the targets of arson attempts in recent months. But Israel's ambassador to France, Elie Barnavi, said he believes the fire might well have been caused by a short circuit in the wiring. The embassy has been undergoing renovations. French authorities said they also believe the fire started by accident.

The acting prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, his minister in charge of security, the foreign minister and the mayor of Paris all went to the scene in the middle of the night. The prime minister said in the current climate anything related to Israel was a serious matter and the government wanted to show its solidarity and sympathy.

The Israeli foreign ministry is sending a team to inspect the ruins and evaluate the loss. Ambassador Barnavi said this was a tough blow for his staff and that years of work had been destroyed.