Despite debate over passports, security fears, Jewish pilgrimage in Tunisia gains strength

Despite years of security concerns and a harsh debate over Israeli passports, officials say the number of Jewish pilgrims taking part in an annual rite in Tunisia is up dramatically for the first time in years.

Rene Trabelsi, who helps organize the trek to the Ghriba synagogue, Africa's oldest, said 2,000 people took part in the three-day pilgrimage ending Sunday.

The island of Djerba, site of the synagogue, had seen pilgrims in the hundreds each year since Tunisia's 2011 revolution, from a peak of 7,000 in 2010.

This was the first year that Israeli pilgrims have been allowed to use their passports rather than a special document issued by the Tunisian government, prompting an outcry among some lawmakers. Tunisia has no diplomatic relations with Israel.