Jewish sites in Tunisia firebombed amid social unrest
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'There was a failed effort to burn down synagogue in Djerba'

Jewish sites in Tunisia firebombed amid social unrest

Schools and a synagogue sustain minor damage in attacks, locals say

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

A tourist visits El Ghriba, the oldest synagogue in Africa, on the Island of Djerba, southern Tunisia, October 29, 2015. (AP/Mosa'ab Elshamy)
A tourist visits El Ghriba, the oldest synagogue in Africa, on the Island of Djerba, southern Tunisia, October 29, 2015. (AP/Mosa'ab Elshamy)

A Tunisian Jewish neighborhood was firebombed overnight Tuesday amid protests in the country over rising costs and government austerity, members of the community said.

“There was a failed attempt to burn down a synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of Djerba through the use of Molotov cocktails, but thank God, no one was hurt and security and civil protection are now doing their duty,” Elie Trabelsi, the son of the synagogue’s president, Pérez Trabelsi, wrote on Facebook.

The Tunisian news outlet Erem quoted a security official as saying “unknown assailants in a vehicle threw firebombs at the Jewish prayer site at the center of the neighborhood on the Island of Djerba, in an attempt to burn it down.”

The security source added that the fire was contained within a small portion of the site.

Chief executive of Liberal Judaism in the United Kingdon Rabbi Danny Rich at the Ghriba synagogue in the Tunisian resort island of Djerba during the annual Jewish Lag B’Omer pilgrimage, May 25, 2016. (AFP Photo/Fethi Belaid)

A representative of Tunisia’s Jewish community told AFP that two Molotov cocktails were thrown at the entrance to two schools in the neighborhood, but their interiors were not damaged.

Djerba is home to the historic Ghriba Synagogue, believed to have been founded in 586 BCE by Jews fleeing the destruction of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. The Ghriba Synagogue has long been a destination for pilgrims, especially Jews of Tunisian descent.

The number of pilgrims visiting the synagogue has fallen sharply since it was hit by an al-Qaeda suicide bombing just before the 2002 pilgrimage.

Before the attack, which killed 21, the event attracted as many as 8,000 pilgrims a year. Now, hundreds flock to the site annually.

French Tunisian Jewish women pray at the Ghriba synagogue in the Tunisian resort island of Djerba during the annual Jewish Lag B’Omer pilgrimage, May 25, 2016. (AFP Photo/Fethi Belaid)

In February, Israel’s Foreign Ministry charged its diplomats with calling on the international community to urge the Tunisian government to protect its Jewish community.

The order was issued following several anti-Semitic incidents in the country. Some 1,500 Jews live in Tunisia today, down from an estimated 100,000 before the country won independence from France in 1956.

AFP contributed to this report.

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