Monday 11 December 2017

Israelis warned not to visit Tunisia for Jewish festival

Israelis warned not to visit Tunisia for Jewish festival
(AFP (eng) 05/04/17)
Israelis warned not to visit Tunisia for Jewish festival

Israel warned its citizens on Wednesday against visiting Tunisia, where Jewish pilgrims will celebrate a religious festival later this month, citing the threat of jihadist attack.

It also said any Israelis there should "leave the country immediately."

The festival of Lag BaOmer draws hundreds of Jews to tombs of revered rabbis as well as the famed El Ghriba synagogue on the Tunisian holiday island of Djerba.

This year the pilgrimage is due to start on May 12, according to organisers.

"Terrorist elements, especially those affiliated with global jihad, continue to act toward carrying out attacks in Tunisia," the counter-terrorism bureau said in a statement released by the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"There is a risk of attacks, against Jewish destinations as well," the bureau said, recommending that visits to Tunisia be avoided.

In Tunisia, both the foreign ministry and the head of El Ghriba synagogue shrugged off the Israeli concerns as unfounded.

Israeli authorities made "the same announcement in previous years. It (the pilgrimage) will take place in the best conditions possible. We have taken all measures to ensure the security of this national religious event," the ministry's Bouraoui Limam told AFP.

Perez Trabelsi, chairman of the synagogue's board, urged worshippers not to allow such calls to spoil the pilgrimage.

"I tell people: 'Come. We are in a secure country. They are lying to you so you do not come,'" he said on private radio station Mosaique FM.

Last year's Djerba event took place without incident but under heavy security due to heightened worries following a string of jihadist attacks in the North African country.

Tunisia was also where an engineer working for Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas was assassinated in December.

Mohamed Zaouari, 49, was a drone expert, murdered at the wheel of his car outside his house in Tunisia's second city Sfax. Hamas accused Israel of killing him. Israel did not respond to the allegation.

Last month, the counter-terrorism bureau warned Israelis against visiting Egypt's Sinai region ahead of the Jewish Passover holiday. It even took the rare measure of closing the border crossing.

The move followed a series of deadly bomb attacks on Egyptian churches.

During the 11 days the crossing was closed, a rocket from the Sinai hit southern Israel and an Egyptian policeman was killed near the peninsula's St Catherine's monastery in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group.

Djerba is home to one of the last Jewish communities in the Arab world.

But the number of pilgrims visiting El Ghriba has fallen sharply since a 2002 suicide bombing claimed by Al-Qaeda killed 21 people.

Prior to the attack, the celebrations in Djerba would attract almost 8,000 people each year, from countries including Britain, France and Italy as well as Israel.

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