A fierce fire destroyed the Israeli embassy in Paris early on Thursday in what police and the ambassador said was probably an accident. Eight of more than 150 firefighters were hurt battling the blaze, which ripped through the five-storey building in central Paris at around 2 a.m. (midnight GMT) leaving only the walls standing. No one else was injured. France has seen a spate of anti-Semitic attacks in recent months linked to violence in the Middle East. Israeli ambassador Elie Barnavi said he could not rule out arson, but added that an electrical short circuit was probably the cause. Renovation work recently started on the ground floor of the mission, which is located not far from the Champs Elysees Avenue on a street that is under round-the-clock police guard. "For the moment, all that can be said is it seems probable that it was an accident," Barnavi, flanked by three bodyguards, told reporters as smoke billowed from the gutted building. "The most probable theory is that it was a short circuit." In a sign of the sensitivities, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and his foreign and interior ministers all rushed to the embassy. President Jacques Chirac also telephoned Barnavi. "Everything concerning Israel is serious at this time," Raffarin said at the scene. "We came to express our sympathy and concern to the Israeli ambassador and Israeli people at this incident, whose cause we do not know." Police said initial indications pointed to an accident. They said Israeli security experts would be involved in the inquiry. Wave of attacks
A spate of attacks on synagogues and other Jewish targets in recent months has stoked fears in Israel and among Jewish groups abroad of a resurgent anti-Semitism in France, which is home to Europe's largest Jewish and Muslim communities. Some groups, particularly in the United States, have called for a boycott of French goods and France. Barnavi, who received a threatening letter containing a Magnum calibre .44 revolver bullet last month, praised the speed with which firefighters and police had rushed to the burning embassy and said he had been touched by offers of help from French officials. bout 60 people living in buildings adjoining the embassy were briefly evacuated as the blaze raced through the mission, fuelled by wooden panelling in the rooms. "We literally saw the fire jump from one floor to another, up towards the top. it was like a scene in a movie," Barnavi said. "All our memories went up in smoke." The building had housed the Israeli embassy since 1964 and more than 100 people worked there. Barnavi, a modern history professor as well as a diplomat, said he had lost hundreds of books as well as "a wonderful collection of pipes". The embassy is expected to operate temporarily from Barnavi's residence.