Israeli official says Tunisian blast terrorist

 

Israel's Foreign Ministry said it believed a deadly explosion near a Tunisian Jewish shrine today was a terrorist attack and not an accident as Tunisian authorities have suggested.

The Tunisian news agency TAP, which spoke to passersby, reported the truck driver appeared to ignore a security officer's order to stop. The truck sped up and struck the pavement and a synagogue fence before exploding, TAP said.

Suicide bombings, many involving vehicles, have become a fixture of an 18-month-old Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation.

The government in the mostly Muslim Tunisia was quick to insist the explosion was the result of an accident, but Mr Shalom Cohen, head of the North African Desk in the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said it was deliberate.

The details on the incident, and knowledge of the site itself, lead us to believe that this was a deliberate terrorist attack, Mr Cohen told reporters.

"The synagogue is not in the city centre, but fairly isolated on the periphery. It is also surrounded by a wall. Therefore the chances of a vehicle being there by accident are exceedingly slim," he added. Mr Peres Trabelsi, leader of the local Jewish community, told Israel's Channel 2 television by telephone that the wall of the synagogue caved in under the blast, but the five worshippers inside were unharmed.

Residents voiced fears the synagogue had been targeted. A spring pilgrimage draws thousands of Jews to El Ghriba each year, including Israelis, despite the state of relations between Arabs and Jews. Djerba is also a tourist hub.