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Jewish Agency Team Going to Ethiopia to Arrange Transit of Those Left Behind

The Jewish Agency is sending a team of officials back into Ethiopia this week to arrange transportation to Israel for an estimated 2,000 Jews who missed last month’s Operation Solomon airlift.

The airlift brought more than 14,000 Jews from Addis Ababa to Israel over a 36-hour period on May 24-25. But some 350 Jews did not make it to the airport in time for the airlift, and another 1,500 to 2,000 Jews are believed to be living still in the northwestern province of Gondar.

Also left behind in the capital were about 3,000 Jews who had converted to Christianity.

That triggered a controversy here over whether the converts should be helped to immigrate to Israel. In addition to those left in the capital, there are anywhere from 8,000 to 60,000 converts believed to be living in other parts of the country, including Gondar, where most of the Jews once lived.

Jewish Agency Chairman Simcha Dinitz said the decision on whether they should be brought here rests with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

Dinitz disclosed that Shamir personally gave instructions during Operation Solomon not to take the converts, disregarding pressure from Housing Minister Ariel Sharon and other ministers and Knesset members who want maximum aliyah.

Dinitz told a Voice of Peace radio interviewer that the 3,000 converts left behind in Addis Ababa had been brought to the capital from the Gondar region by the American Association for Ethiopian Jews, not the Jewish Agency.

The Chief Rabbinate resolved last week to send a delegation of rabbis and kessim to Addis Ababa to investigate the status of the converts and oversee their “return” to Judaism. The kessim are the Ethiopian Jewish religious leaders.

The Jewish Agency, however, is determined to bring out the remaining authentic Jews, who were on their way from Gondar to Addis Ababa during Operation Solomon or missed the airlift for other reasons.

FEW VENTURE OUT OF ABSORPTION CENTERS

Dinitz said the agency wants to get them all out as soon as possible. He rejected the notion of waiting for the country to return to normalcy following the recent overthrow of the government.

The Jewish Agency chairman reported, meanwhile, that the number of absorption centers housing Operation Solomon arrivals has been reduced from 49 to 33, as the family registration process progresses.

Dinitz said about 25 percent of the new olim would soon be moved from the hotels serving as absorption centers to mobile homes, close to relatives who preceded them to Israel.

The new immigrants got official permission Monday to leave the absorption centers, where they have been confined since their arrival in Israel two weeks ago.

They were kept on the premises to allow for their smooth registration. But when the doors were opened, few would venture away from the now familiar environment.

Those who did leave were instructed by Jewish Agency personnel not to go too far. Some were given escorts. All immigrants received identification cards with their names and the addresses of the absorption centers.

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