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Tunisia Gas Truck Explodes, Kills 5

April 11, 2002

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) _ A truck filled with natural gas crashed into a wall surrounding a synagogue on the Tunisian resort island of Djerba on Thursday, killing five people and injuring about 20, the official news agency reported.

The TAP agency qualified the blast as an ``accident.″ The explosion killed the driver of the truck and four other people, including a police officer, the agency said.

Helicopters were mobilized to bring the injured to Djerba’s regional hospital. They suffered from burns of varying degrees of seriousness.

Djerba is a popular tourist destination off the southeast coast of the North African nation. The ornate blue-and-white Ghriba synagogue, set in the middle of an olive grove, is a site of pilgrimage for Jews. It was open to visitors at the time of the blast Thursday.

According to Jewish tradition, the first Jews came to Djerba in biblical times, bringing a stone from the temple that was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. The stone is kept in a grotto at Djerba’s synagogue.

Security services and judicial authorities opened an investigation to find the causes of the blast.

As tensions have escalated in the Middle East, synagogues in Europe, notably in France, have been targeted by attacks. In the most serious case, a synagogue in the southern French city of Marseille was burned to the ground on March 31.

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