Arsonists destroyed a Jewish community center in eastern Paris before dawn on Sunday, leaving behind red graffiti with anti-Semitic messages such as "Jews get out."
Flames gnawed away the wooden doors and blackened the walls of the center, a meeting place for the elderly and disadvantaged located on the ground floor of a six-story building. Rescue workers said the center was gutted.
Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and other top officials visited the center, the latest target in a years-long wave of anti-Jewish attacks in France.
"I came here today to say that France cannot accept a trivialization of anti-Semitism," the prime minister said. He promised that prosecutors would seek the maximum sentence of 20 years behind bars for whoever was responsible.
In a statement, President Jacques Chirac condemned the attack and pledged solidarity with the Jewish community. The government is "determined to find the perpetrators of this unacceptable act so that they can be tried and convicted with the greatest severity" that the law allows, Chirac said.
Authorities immediately suspected the fire was set deliberately. Inside the building, investigators found anti-Semitic graffiti and swastikas scrawled in red marker. One message read, "Without the Jews, the world is happy."
The wave of anti-Semitic violence has coincided with worsening tensions in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinians.