Watered-down presence at annual Tunisian Jewish pilgrimage

Hopes that Tunisia's Jewish community would be able carry out its historic Lag B'Omer festivities to the scale it once did were dampened last week when crowds stayed away because of security concerns.

Despite a high police presence and optimism from the head of the Tunisian Jewish community before Thursday's pilgrimage to El Ghriba synagogue on the island of Djerba only a few hundred people attended the festivities.

Numbers did improve on 2011, when the unrest of the Arab Spring meant that only 100 people took part in the event at one of Africa's oldest synagogues. But this year Israel issued a travel advisory suggesting people stay away, and many Tunisians and visiting pilgrims did.

Perez Trabelsi, El Ghriba synagogue president, told Reuters that he was still pleased that the event went ahead, even with less than 500 people.

After the fall of the secular leadership of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and the election of an Islamist-led government, the new president attempted to assuage the concerns of the country's Jewish population.

Moncef Marzouki met religious leaders in December and told them that Tunisia was now a safe country for the 2,000 remaining Jews.

Last updated: 4:42pm, May 14 2012