Suspicious Fire Damages French Jewish School

A pre-dawn fire destroyed part of a suburban Jewish school in what France's interior minister said was likely an anti-semitic (search) act.

No injuries were reported in Saturday's blaze at the Merkaz Hatorah (search) private school, located in Gagny in the Seine-Saint-Denis region.

About 100 firefighters were called in to put out the flames, which destroyed some 32,290 square feet on the school's second floor where work was underway, officials at the local prefecture said. The area was not being used by students.

The fire started in two separate places, local officials said.

"The criminal origin of the blaze is more than strongly suspected which gives, for this Jewish school, an anti-Semitic and obviously racist connotation," said Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy during a visit to the fire site.

He vowed that those who set the fire would be caught and punished "with the greatest severity."

Jewish schools, temples and cemeteries have been hit in anti-Semitic attacks that peaked in 2002 when a Marseille (search) synagogue was deliberately burned to the ground.

Rising tensions coincided in the past with the crisis between the Palestinians and Israel. Many of the attacks were blamed on young Muslims.

The Merkaz Hatorah school has some 160 junior high school students and 60 students in the high school. The area that caught fire was being readied to take in nursery and primary school students, according to Sarkozy.