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Tunisia: did protesters torch synagogue?

Tunisia protests

Initial media reports that protesters had burned down an ancient synagogue in the Tunisian city of Gabes were later refuted, with accusations of provocation by ex-regime members.

Reuters, AFP and other wire services reported Feb. 1 that a synagogue was set aflame by arsonists in the Tunisian city of Gabes overnight, in a wave of nocturnal violence that also affected the capital. "I condemn this action and I believe those who did it want to create divisions between Jews and Muslims in Tunisia who have lived for decades in peace," said local Jewish community leader Peres Trabelsi. "What especially shocked me was the fact that there was a police force not far from the synagogue when it was attacked," he added. However, later the same day, AFP retracted the story, saying without elaboration that their sources had withdrawn the accusation.

Also Feb. 1, Tunisia's new interior minister Farhat Rajhi ordered the arrest of his sacked predecessor Rafik Belhaj Kacem, saying some members of the security forces were in a "conspiracy" to undermine the state. He implied they had a hand in the previous night's violence, which included an attack on the ministry building.

A UN investigative panels has arrived at a figure of 219 deaths in the Tunisian uprising, including some 70 killed in fires and repression following prison uprisings. The government had previously put the total figure at 78. (BBC News, AFP, EJP, YNet, Al-Arabiya, Feb. 1)

An indigenous Mizrahi Jewish community persists in Tunisia, as in most North African countries, although considerably dwindled since the establishment of Israel. In April 2002, North Africa's oldest synagogue, on the Tunisian island of Djerba,was badly damaged in a deadly terrorist attack.

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