Fire Burns Down Synagogue in Russia

A fire roared through a synagogue in a Moscow (search) suburb early Tuesday, burning down much of the wooden structure in an incident that Jewish leaders blamed on anti-Semitism.

The synagogue in the town of Malakhovka (search), 12 miles southeast of Moscow caught fire at about 6 a.m., and the flames quickly engulfed the entire one-story building. Firefighters were unable to prevent damage to the building's interior and roof.

Investigators said there was no evidence of arson, but Jewish leaders such as Borukh Gorin, a spokesman for the Federation of Russia's Jewish Organizations (search), insisted that the synagogue had been set on fire.

"The fire was caused by arson (committed) out of religious hatred," Gorin told the Ekho Moskvy radio station. Concerns about anti-Semitism in Russia have risen in recent years.

Investigators at the scene, however, said the fire was likely an accident.

"So far we haven't found any obvious indication that it was arson," Kalin Batrov, a local police official, told The Associated Press.

Many rights groups accuse Russian leaders of being silent in the face of religious intolerance and xenophobia, expressed in the occasional desecration of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues and more frequent skinhead attacks against dark-skinned foreigners.

Grigory Amromin, whose family had attended the synagogue since the 1940s, wandered around the gutted building in despair.

"I can barely resist tears. Here you were in peace," he said. "This is such a huge part of life that has been cut off."