JERUSALEM (Aug. 18)
Some 2,600 Jews remaining in Ethiopia will be brought to Israel, probably by the middle of next month, the Foreign Ministry has announced.
The first group is expected by the end of this week.
An agreement signed by Israel and Ethiopia in Addis Ababa last Friday allows the Jews’ unconditional departure.
Political sources here said that unlike previous deals, Israel does not have to “buy” their exit.
More than 14,000 Ethiopian Jews were flown to Israel in the Operation Solomon airlift of May 24-25.
Israel was reported to have paid $35 million to secure the permission of Mengistu Haile Mariam, who up until a few days before the airlift had been the Marxist country’s dictatorial president.
The flights had to be suspended because rebels fighting the Mengistu regime were closing in on the capital. Israeli officials were deeply concerned at the time over the fate of the Jews left behind.
But secret negotiations began about three months ago. Israel’s ambassador to Ethiopia, Asher Naim, met with the new Ethiopian leader, Meles Zenawi.
At the same time, Foreign Minister David Levy prevailed on the U.S. administration to use its influence with the new Ethiopian regime.
As a result of the agreement, about 600 Jews in Addis Ababa who missed Operation Solomon will be flown to Israel this week.
NO DECISION YET ON CONVERTS
Another 2,000 still in the Gondar region in northern Ethiopia have been stranded by bad weather and are not expected to reach the capital before the middle of next month, at the earliest, the Foreign Ministry said.
In addition, there are 1,000 to 1,500 Jews in the remote Kuara region, where it is impossible to get them out.
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee will help make arrangements for the final Ethiopian emigration, as it did for Operation Solomon.
The departing emigrants will be transported on regular commercial flights, probably by Ethiopian Airways.
Micha Feldman, the Jewish Agency senior official who coordinated the earlier operation, was scheduled to fly to Addis Ababa on Sunday to oversee the new exodus.
The Jewish Agency said Sunday that as a result of lessons learned from Operation Solomon, the newest arrivals will be placed immediately in mobile homes, which most closely approximate the rural villages they left behind.
The earlier olim who were sent to hotels on arrival had a difficult time adjusting to the environment.
Meanwhile, no decision appears to have been made on how to deal with the Ethiopian Jews forced to convert to Christianity who now want to come to Israel.
Estimates of their number have ranged from 8,000 to 60,000. No one really knows, Jewish Agency sources said.