France braces for more protests over Gaza
France braced Wednesday for more protests against Israel's deadly bombing of Gaza just days after demonstrators in Paris tried to storm two synagogues to the concern of Muslim and Jewish community leaders.
Some 50 political parties, unions and activist groups have called for rallies across France on Wednesday evening to seek an "immediate end" to the Israeli offensive that has left 208 dead and to demand sanctions against the Jewish state.
Paris police meanwhile are trying to ban a large pro-Palestinian rally in the French capital on Saturday "in a context of increased tensions", a source close to the situation said.
The Israeli offensive has stoked passions in France -- which has the largest Muslim population in western Europe as well as a 500,000-strong Jewish community.
So far, the Israeli air campaign has killed 208 Palestinians -- with a Gaza-based rights group saying more than 80 percent of them were civilians.
For their part, Gaza militant groups have fired a barrage of more than 1,200 rockets at Israel, which on Tuesday claimed its first Israeli life.
Although the majority on both sides in France do not take public positions on the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, tensions in the region have fuelled hate speech on social media.
And the latest conflict has again highlighted divisions within French society -- a Jewish community increasingly concerned over anti-Semitism, French people of north African descent who include a growing radical Islamic fringe, and far-left activists whose opposition to Israeli policies sometimes verges on anti-Semitism.
Recent attacks on Jewish targets have fuelled an increasing exodus to Israel, with 2,200 Jews leaving France in the first six months of the year compared with fewer than 600 a year ago.
Large crowds are expected at Wednesday's rallies in Paris, Lyon in the east, Lille in the north and Toulouse in the southwest.
On Sunday, a similar demonstration in Paris attended by several thousand people degenerated into violence when some protesters clashed with police, and a small group tried to storm two synagogues in the centre of the capital.
The scuffles involved both pro-Palestinian activists and members of the Jewish Defence League, deemed a "right-wing terrorist group" by the FBI.
These prompted a warning from President Francois Hollande, who said he did not want to see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "imported into France" and that attacks on any place of worship would not be tolerated.
Since then, leaders of Muslim and Jewish communities in France have called for calm.
© 2014 AFP