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El Al Gets Permission to Fly Soviet Jews by Way of Finland

Finland announced Tuesday that it will permit El Al Airlines to begin flying Soviet Jewish immigrants to Israel from Finnish territory.

Christer Hagulund, press attache at Finland’s Consulate here, said an El Al plane will be permitted to fly emigres once a week from the eastern city of Lappeenranta to Israel. He said Finland had committed to the flights until Oct. 24.

Soviet Jewry activists here welcomed the decision.

“We certainly applaud the Finns’ decision to allow the El Al flights,” said Micah Naftalin, national director of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews.

Shoshana Cardin, chairwoman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, said she was “delighted” that lengthy negotiations between Israel and Finland had born fruit.

Finland has already been used as a transit point for emigrating Soviet Jews in the past several months, but on a relatively small scale. For example, 50 Soviet Jews traveled to Israel through Finland last Friday, Hagulund said.

A statement released Tuesday in Helsinki by Finnish Foreign Minister Pertti Paasio contained some elements that Israelis may find troubling, though it is not thought that they will be impediments to emigration through Finland.

For one, Soviet Jews traveling through Finland will have the option of reconsidering their destination once they arrive in Finland, the foreign minister said. This opens up the possibility that some Soviet Jews may “drop out” of their aliyah and remain in Europe.

Second, Paasio reaffirmed Finland’s opposition to Israeli settlement in the administered territories and stressed that Soviet Jewish immigrants should not be permitted to reside there.

Naftalin said he did not believe the dropout question was “very serious,” because “there aren’t that many places willing to accept Soviet Jews anyway.”

Cardin was of the same opinion. “Soviet Jews have to accept that the doors are not open everywhere,” she said.

She added that it has become clear, over the past 16 months, that there is no Israeli policy of settling Soviet Jews in the territories.

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