(JTA) — A Tunisian synagogue was not the target of arsonists, a Jewish leader asserted, contradicting another leader.
Jewish community leader Perez Trabelsi on Tuesday told the French news agency AFP that the synagogue in the southern Gabes region was burned Monday night by arsonists; he said the Torah scrolls were damaged in the fire.
"I condemn this action and I believe those who did it want to create divisions between Jews and Muslims in Tunisia who have lived for decades in peace," Trabelsi later told Reuters.
But late Tuesday, Roger Bismuth, the president of the Jewish community in Tunisia, told The Jerusalem Post that the fire was likely vandalism, and that the synagogue is actually a room used for worship that was unlocked at the time of the attack.
Trabelsi is the head of the Ghriba synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba. Al-Qaida terrorists bombed the synagogue in 2002, killing 21 people, including 16 tourists.
The Tunis-Afrique-Press news agency on Wednesday quoted Trabelsi as saying that he could not confirm that the synagogue room had been set on fire, denying his earlier statements to AFP. He told the news agency that he would send volunteers to the scene to investigate what happened.
Ten Tunisian Jews made aliyah to Israel with the help of the Jewish Agency in late January amid political upheaval and violence in Tunisia that led to the overthrow of President Zein el-Abbadin Bin Ali.
About 1,500 Jews are living in Tunisia. Some 1,100 Tunisian Jews live in Djerba, with the rest in the capital city of Tunis.