Official Says All Ethiopian Jews Will Be Able to Come to Israel

The entire Jewish community in Ethiopia will be able to come to Israel in the foreseeable future under a family reunification plan, a top Foreign Ministry official said Wednesday.

Reuven Merhav, the ministry’s director general, made the statement upon his return from a visit to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, which now has diplomatic relations with Israel.

Virtually all of the Jews remaining in Ethiopia have relatives in Israel, Merhav said.

Most are among the 8,000 to 10,000 Ethiopian Jews who came here during Operation Moses, the clandestine series of airlifts from Sudan that were aborted in January 1985 because of premature disclosures.

But even after the airlifts ended, small numbers of Ethiopian Jews continued arriving in Israel, Merhav told army radio in an interview Wednesday.

That fact was widely known. But it was believed to be the first time an Israeli official had publicly confirmed it.

Merhav offered no time frame for the family reunification program. Such things move slowly in Ethiopia, and months will elapse before it gets into full swing, he said.

He strongly denied reports that the Ethiopians were easing their emigration policies in exchange for Israeli military training and equipment. There is no such linkage, he insisted.

Ethiopia and most other black African nations broke diplomatic ties with Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Relations with Ethiopia were restored last year, after a 16-year hiatus.

Merhav said ties with Ethiopia are based on civilian cooperation and commercial projects, not military aid. He cited a blood bank originally set up in Addis Ababa by Israeli doctors, which Israel would now help to expand.

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