DJERBA, Tunisia (AP) — Despite years of security concerns and a harsh debate over Israeli passports, officials said Sunday the number of Jewish pilgrims taking part in an annual rite in Tunisia is up dramatically for the first time in years.
Rene Trabelsi, who helps organize the trek to the Ghriba synagogue, Africa's oldest, said 2,000 people, including 1,000 from abroad, took part in the three-day pilgrimage ending Sunday.
"The pilgrimage of 2014 has definitely been a success. It is a great day," he said, thanking security forces for protecting the event.
The pilgrimage to the island of Djerba, site of the synagogue, was canceled in 2011 after the revolution and in subsequent years there were only hundreds attending, down from a peak of 7,000 in 2000.
In 2002, al-Qaida militants set off a truck bomb near the synagogue, killing 21 people, mostly German tourists — and badly jolting the now-tiny Jewish community
This year was the first time that Israeli pilgrims have been allowed to use their passports rather than a special document issued by the Tunisian government, prompting an outcry among some lawmakers. Tunisia has no diplomatic relations with Israel.
Iris Cohen, who runs an Israel-based travel agency, said it was the first time she had done the pilgrimage since the revolution.
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