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Friday, 12 April, 2002, 20:56 GMT 21:56 UK
Mystery surrounds synagogue blast
A young girl is taken to hospital suffering from burns
A number of German tourists suffered burns
Mystery surrounds the nature of an explosion outside an ancient Jewish synagogue in southern Tunisia that killed ten people.

On Friday, the death toll in Thursday's blast rose from the previously reported seven, as officials sought to deflect a growing chorus of questions about how it could have been an accident.

Six Germans, including an 11-year-old boy, and four Tunisians were killed in the explosion on the island of Djerba.

An additional 19 German nationals were hospitalised suffering from injuries, some of which were described as serious, a ministry spokesman said.

The Tunisian authorities say that a truck carrying cooking gas accidentally exploded when it crashed into a wall, but others, including the Israeli Government have expressed doubts.

They claim it was a suicide attack and is linked to events in the Middle East.

'Loud blast'

"I think it's an accident, and that it has no link to the situation in Israel," said the head of the local Jewish community, Peres Taraboulsi.

However, Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon told BBC News Online that "all the evidence points to a truck bombing and not an accident".

Work of wonder
La Ghriba means 'the one who works wonders'
There are more than 1,000 Jews on Djerba
Ancestors believed to have arrived more than 2,000 years ago
Said to have been founded after the Jewish Exodus of 556 BC
Place of pilgrimage for Sephardic Jews, second only to Jerusalem's Western Wall
Houses unique collection of Torahs
The ministry said that the reason the Tunisians were saying it was an accident was because they don't want to scare the tourists.

Eyewitnesses quoted by the Tunisian News Agency (TAP) said the driver appeared to ignore a security officer's order to stop. It sped up and hit the synagogue, TAP said.

A coach filled with mainly German tourists was caught up in the explosion.

Germany has called for a full investigation.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said that if it was a terrorist attack "those responsible must of course be called to account."

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the government wanted the cause of the crash "cleared up beyond doubt," and two government investigators were sent to Tunisia.

A local human rights group also cast doubt on the official explanation, saying the government version was questionable particularly taking into account the synagogue was in a dead-end road.

Jewish sites in France have come under attack in recent weeks in violence linked to the Middle East.

The Jews of Djerba

Ghriba, whose foundations are said to date from 586 BC, is one of Africa's oldest synagogues and is still functioning.

It attracts several thousand visitors for an annual spring festival.

The island of Djerba, off Tunisia's southeast coast, is a popular holiday destination.

It is also home to around 1,000 of Tunisia's 3,000 Jews.

Many Jews left mainland Tunisia for Israel following the creation of the Jewish state in 1948, and more when the synagogue in the capital Tunis was burned down during the 1967 Middle East conflict.

Since then, the Jews of Jerba have been left largely alone.

See also:

26 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Tunisia
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