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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 September 2005, 16:23 GMT 17:23 UK
Ethiopia Jews go on hunger strike
Ethiopian Jews pray in Addis Ababa. File photo
More than 20,000 Jews live in Ethiopia
Hundreds of Ethiopian Jews have gone on hunger strike to protest against a delay in their relocation to Israel.

Frustrated by an eight-year-long wait, the community has resolved not to eat until the planned move gets under way.

The Falasha Mura, or Beta-Israel as they prefer to be called, are an ancient and isolated group living in the Ethiopian highlands.

Although some were forcibly converted to Christianity, they trace their roots to the biblical King Solomon.

'Grave starvation'

Members of the Falasha Mura community - many wearing Jewish skullcaps - began the hunger strike in their camp in the capital, Addis Ababa, on Tuesday morning.

Our home is Israel
Getenet Mengesha
Ethiopian Jew

They are protesting against their "long wait" to return to the Promised Land.

Israeli officials say they will all be allowed to travel by the end of 2007.

"Israel is our place. We have been displaced for 2,000 years," said Getenet Mengesha, one of the group's leaders.

The protestors have been listening to lectures by their religious leaders aimed at giving them the heart to endure many days of hunger.

"End our suffering and let us go home," read some of the slogans.

The community believes that by going on hunger strike they will force the Israeli authorities to act fast.

The Falasha Mura lamented their living conditions in a recent letter to the Israeli government.

Ethiopian Jews being airlifted to Israel
Many Jews were airlifted to Israel in 1991

"We have been suffering for the past eight years in Addis Ababa and Gondar. We are... facing grave starvation... and much hardship," the letter said.

"They [Israeli officials] must respond. Our home is Israel," Mr Getenet said.

The protestors are among the more than 20,000 Ethiopians of Jewish origin remaining in the country.

In November 1984 Israel airlifted 6,300 Ethiopian Jews from refugee camps in Sudan in a move code-named Operation Moses.

Another massive airlift - Operation Solomon - followed in 1991, bringing the number of Ethiopian Jews living today in Israel close to 80,000.

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