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France’s Chief Rabbi Protests to Tunisian Envoy over Attacks on Jewish Homes and Shops

France’s Chief Rabbi Rene Sirat has protested to Ambassador Hedi Mabrut of Tunisia about the attack on Jewish homes and shops in the small cities of Zarzis and Ben Gardane on the eve of Rosh Hashanah and called on the government to take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of the 4,000 member Jewish community.

Sirat also protested to the Ambassador that the synagogues in the two cities had to be closed during the High Holy Days in an attempt by the community to avoid further disturbances. The Jewish homes and shops were looted and set afire, but there were no casualties.

Mabruk told Sirat that all necessary measure have already been taken to protect the two Jewish communities and that his government is sending additional police forces to areas where similar incidents might occur.

President Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia, who was in the Embassy building when Sirat called on Mabruk several days ago, gave the Chief Rabbi his personal assurances on the matter. Bourguiba, who is in Paris on a private visit, conferred with President Francois Mitterrand on Monday and reportedly called for Israel and the PLO to mutually recognize each other.

EFFORT TO MINIMIZE INCIDENTS

The incidents in Ben Gardane and Zarzis took place after pro-Palestinian elements demonstrated in the centers of both cities against the massacre which had taken place in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in west Beirut. An official Tunisian communique later said that more than a dozen demonstrators were arrested.

Official Tunisian sources quoted by the French news agency, Agence France Press, tried to minimize the incidents which run counter to Bourguiba’s policy of Arab-Israeli reconciliation. The sources said the attacks were carried out by opposition elements belonging to extreme rightwing Islamic organizations.

Tunisia’s Jewish community has dwindled to some 4,000 people from 60,000 on the eve of the country’s independence in 1956. The largest communities are on the island of Djerba, where anti-Jewish incidents took place after the Yom Kippur War and more recently a couple of years ago, and in the coastal Hamamet region, southeast of Tunis.

Most of the remaining Jews are either pensioners or sick and elderly people who could not leave the country for personal reasons.

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