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Israel Mute on Reported Plan to Airlift Jews out of Yemen

Israeli authorities have remained silent about reports that a new airlift is being planned to bring out the remaining Jews in Yemen.

The government of Yemen has dismissed the reports, which first surfaced when the Sunday Times of London wrote that Israel intended to mount a rescue operation with or without the cooperation of the Yemeni authorities.

Political sources in Jerusalem cautioned that any comment could jeopardize quiet efforts on behalf of the 1,500 to 2,000 Jews still living in Yemen, a country that restricts emigration.

But one official involved in those efforts told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that an undertaking along the lines of Operation Solomon, which brought more than 14,000 Jews out of Ethiopia last May, would be “illogical” in the case of Yemen.

Unlike the Jews of Ethiopia, who were concentrated in one or two provinces, “Yemenite Jewry is spread all over the country, in small villages and valleys, and therefore a military operation is out of the question,” said reserve Brig. Gen. Avigdor Kahalani.

Kahalani is a member of a coordinating body operating out of the Prime Minister’s Office that guides efforts on behalf of Yemenite Jews.

Its other members are reserve Maj. Gen. David Maimon, Rabbi Ratzon Arousi of Kiryat Ono and Deputy Health Minister Eliezer Mizrahi.

There were no contacts with Yemenite Jewry until recently. But in the past two years, there has been a “positive change” in the attitude of the Yemeni authorities, Kahalani told JTA.

VISITS AND LETTERS FROM U.S.

Jews of Yemeni origin, including some living in the United States, have visited Yemen recently. And Yemenite Jews are now receiving new supplies of ritual articles, including talleisim, Torah scrolls, prayerbooks and tefillin.

Yemenite Jews in the United States are exchanging letters, photographs and videotapes with family members in Yemen.

A few Yemenite Jews have been allowed to emigrate. A Jewish family consisting of a father and four daughters arrived in New York last year and intends to remain in the United States.

A “reliable source” at the Foreign Ministry of Yemen was quoted as saying that all Yemenites, including Jews, are free to go anywhere, except to Israel.

But Yemen’s Foreign Ministry denied press reports last June that Yemenite Jews would soon be permitted to leave for Israel.

According to Arab tradition, the first Jews arrived in Yemen about 3,000 years ago, when it was known as the Land of Sheba.

In modern times, the number of Jews in Yemen has never exceeded 80,000, about 1 percent of the population. They are dispersed among 1,300 villages around the country, which occupies the southwestern edge of the Arabian peninsula.

The capital, Sana, at one point had a Jewish population slightly under 10,000.

About 50,000 Yemenite Jews were flown to Israel during Operation Magic Carpet in the 1950s and early 1960s. That emigration ended in 1962, when a military coup, supported by Egypt, deposed the local imam, or Moslem religious leader.

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