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Tight security measures ahead of El Ghriba synagogue on Tunisia’s island Djerba

A member of the Tunisian special forces stands guard on the roof of a building as pilgrims arrive at the Ghriba Synagogue on the Tunisian resort island of Djerba on 2 May, 2018 during the first day of the annual Jewish pilgrimage to the synagogue thought to be Africa's oldest [FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty]

Tunisia’s authorities tightened security on Djerba Island, ahead of celebrations at El Ghriba synagogue.

Security and military forces moved to the island, of the coast of southern Tunisia, while joint patrols and armoured vehicles were seen scouring the main streets.

Police imposed strict inspection procedures at the entrance to the island and around the synagogue.

Approximately eight thousand pilgrims from around the world this year, are expected to attend as these are the first celebrations since the events of the revolution in 2011.

“Security officers are everywhere, but the atmosphere is refreshing, all the hotels are fully booked on the island and we expect a wider flow of tourists and visitors this year,” said one visitor.

The official pilgrimage to the synagogue occurs on Wednesday and Thursday. But celebrations generally continue until the end of the week.

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The rituals include lighting the candles and asking the blessings from the rabbi. Women will also write the visitor’s wishes on eggs and then put them in the basement of the temple.

A French Jew holds eggs bearing writing expressing her wishes that will be placed in a cave under the Ghriba synagogue in Tunisia’s Mediterranean resort island of Djerba on the first day of the annual Jewish pilgrimage to the synagogue on 2 May, 2018 [FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty]

The celebrations include other rituals such as drinking a traditional alcoholic drink called “bokha“, singing and carrying out the Kharja to the front yard of the temple.

The pilgrimage is considered a prelude to the peak summer tourism. This year marks the first time in more than three decades that the Jewish pilgrimage coincides with Ramadan.

El Ghriba synagogue is the oldest in Africa, was built 1500 years ago.

In 2002, the temple was hit by one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Tunisia. The attack, which was carried out by extremists affiliated to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. They used a fuel tanker, caused the death of 21 people, including 14 German tourists.

It is estimated that the Jewish community in Tunisia today includes about 2000 people. There were around 100,000 in the middle of the last century. But, many migrated to Europe and Israel with the outbreak of Arab-Israeli wars.

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