Diplomats from the United States and France visited Sunday the Ghriba synagogue on Tunisia's Djerba island to commemorate a deadly attack there last year, amid a Jewish pilgrimage hampered by security fears.

French ambassador Anne Gueguen and Natasha Franceschi, the US deputy chief of mission in Tunisia, lit candles and placed flowers inside Africa's oldest synagogue.

They both declined to be interviewed by AFP, and members of their teams said the event was too emotional for them to speak.

On May 9, 2023, a Tunisian policeman shot dead a colleague and took his ammunition before heading to the synagogue, where hundreds of people were taking part in the annual pilgrimage. The assailant killed two more offices as well as two worshippers there.

After rumours that this year's pilgrimage would be cancelled altogether due to security concerns and as tensions soar over the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, organisers had said the three-day event "will be limited".

As the diplomats visited Djerba, only about a dozen Jewish pilgrims attended the festival which started on Friday.

"When I see it empty like this, it hurts," pilgrim Hayim Haddad told AFP in tears on the first day of the pilgrimage.

The religious event is at the heart of Jewish tradition in Tunisia, where only about 1,500 members of the faith still live -- mainly on Djerba.

Organisers said that more than 5,000 people, mostly from abroad, attended last year's pilgrimage, whereas up to 8,000 pilgrims had attended in previous years.

Security at the synagogue had already been tightened after previous attacks.

A suicide truck bombing in 2002, claimed by Al-Qaeda, killed 21 at the synagogue.

Another attack in 1985, also by a Tunisian guard, killed four worshippers and a police officer.