Tunisia beefs up security at Djerba for annual Jewish pilgrimage
Security tightened amid heightened fears of terror following attack on Bardo museum earlier this year.
Africa's oldest synagogue played host on Wednesday to a religious gathering of hundreds of Jews.The pilgrimage took place two months after attacks on the Bardo Museum in Tunisia's capital Tunis which left 22 people dead.There were 500 visitors for the pilgrimage this year, according to Rene Trabelsi, who runs a travel agency in Paris and organises the pilgrimage.Most of them are French and around a dozen are Tunisians living in Israel."Holding the Ghriba pilgrimage is a challenge, a challenge because it's a celebration and people come here to light a candle, make a wish and our wish is clear. We hope we will never have terrorism again, as we saw in Bardo. People have to live as they want," Trabelsi said.Guarded by armed Tunisian police, Jewish revelers chanted and danced as the three-day pilgrimage began at the El Ghriba synagogue at an island 500km south of Tunis.In 2011, after the uprising that toppled former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the annual celebration was cancelled and in 2012 only a few dozen Jews attended out of fear of possible attacks by hardline Islamists.In 2002, militants linked to al-Qaida attacked the synagogue with a truck bomb, killing 21 western tourists.Security for this year's pilgrimage was tight, with hundreds of police on duty.Othmane Battikh, Tunisia's minister of religious affairs, attended the celebrations."My presence here today is a representation of the unity, of Tunisian unity. What unifies us is our citizenship and our love for Tunisia and our Tunisian flag," he said.Predominantly Muslim Tunisia is home to one of North Africa's largest Jewish communities.Though they now number less than 1,800 people, Jews have lived in Tunisia since Roman times.The El Ghriba synagogue, home to most of Tunisia's Jews, is built on the site of a Jewish temple that is believed to date back almost 1,900 years.
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