- The Washington Times - Friday, April 12, 2002

DJERBA, Tunisia A truck loaded with natural gas crashed into the outer wall of a historic synagogue on a Tunisian resort island yesterday, causing an explosion that killed five persons and injured dozens.

The synagogue president called it an accident, but an Israeli official said it was an anti-Semitic attack.

The explosion on the island of Djerba came amid a spate of attacks on Jewish targets in Europe stemming from the escalation in fighting between Israelis and Palestinians.

Among the dead were two German tourists, according to a list compiled by hospitals and given to the Associated Press by Gov. Mohamed Ben Salem.

The three other fatalities were two synagogue workers and the driver of the truck loaded with natural gas, all identified as Tunisians. Initial reports said four German tourists died.

Several dozen people had been inside the synagogue, which is about 40 feet from the outer wall, witnesses said.

Most of those injured were German tourists.

Perez Trabelsi, president of the Ghriba synagogue, said: "I think it's an accident, and that it has no link to the situation in Israel."

In Jerusalem, Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Melchior said the attack was deliberate.

"The wave of recent [anti-Semitic] events reached its peak today with the cruel murder of tourists at the ancient synagogue of Djerba in Tunis," he said.

The bombing came as the Arab world geared up to aid the Palestinian cause.

Jordan's king and queen helped load five helicopters with food and medicine to aid the Palestinians.

King Abdullah II said Jordan was opening up "an air bridge" to the West Bank and that aid for the Palestinians was pouring into his country from other Arab nations.

In Saudi Arabia, a princess donated her Rolls-Royce, one woman gave up her dowry and other Saudis poured millions of dollars into a fund to help families of Palestinian "martyrs" in a nationwide telethon yesterday.

Within five hours the Saudi telethon collected $11.9 million in donations. A similar telethon in Qatar Wednesday raised more than $8.2 million.

In Egypt, Suzanne Mubarak, the wife of President Hosni Mubarak, began a campaign aiming to raise nearly half a million dollars.

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