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Sunday, 16 February, 2003, 19:21 GMT
Israel to accept more Ethiopian Jews
Falash Mura Jews in Ethiopia
Falashas have had trouble proving their Jewish origins
The Israeli Government has announced that it will allow the immigration of another 20,000 Ethiopians of Jewish origin.

Most of them are from the Falash Mura community, who were originally Jewish, but were forced to convert to Christianity in the 19th Century.

The last mass immigration of Ethiopian Jews was in 1991, when Israel organised a dramatic airlift of 15,000 people who had fled fighting at the end of Ethiopia's civil war.

Ethiopian Jewish refugees fly to Israel
15,000 Jews were airlifted from war-torn Ethiopia in 1991
Israel had previously rejected requests for this new group to immigrate. But following the U-turn by the Israeli Cabinet at its weekly meeting, officials will now be sent to Ethiopia to organise the move.

The move to allow the Ethiopians - 17,000 Falash Mura and 3,000 so-called Falashas - into the country was led by the religious Shas party, which holds the interior ministry.

The BBC's Jerusalem correspondent James Reynolds says that previous immigration attempts by the Falash Mura have been hampered the fact that they have largely been unable to prove they are Jewish.

The Ethiopians have been trying to use the "right of return" - an Israeli law which allows Jews from anywhere in the world to obtain automatic Israeli citizenship.

Discrimination

In January 3,000 Ethiopian immigrants demonstrated outside Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office to urge the government to allow their relatives to join them even if they could not prove they were Jewish.

The protesters held up pictures of their relatives left behind in Ethiopia, claiming they were "victims of discrimination".

Now Shas has decided that the community has retained its Jewish makeup - that it only converted to Christianity out of fear.

The party has persuaded the cabinet that those who so desire should be allowed to settle in Israel.

About 80,000 Ethiopian Jews already live in Israel. Our correspondent says they remain one of the poorest sections of Israeli society.

See also:

09 Apr 00 | Middle East
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