Sixteen Jews fleeing the ongoing fighting in the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya arrived in Israel on Tuesday on a flight organized by the Jewish Agency.
Agency officials said seven of the refugees had fled the Chechen capital of Grozny while it was under fire from Russian forces.
Among those arriving in Israel was a 16-year-old girl who lost her mother during the fighting in Grozny.
The refugees had fled to Nalchik, a city some 100 miles east of Grozny, where they stayed with relatives or in hotels while agency emissaries helped them sort out the necessary exit papers.
This week’s flight was the second arranged by the agency to bring Chechen refugees to Israel. Another 32 refugees arrived in Israel late last month.
In Tel Aviv, dozens of members of a group known as the Islamic Movement demonstrated outside the Russian Embassy, protesting Moscow’s assault on the Chechen people and comparing it to Nazi policies against the Jews.
The movement has been raising money and collecting warm clothing to send to Chechnya.
As fierce fighting continued to rage between Russian troops and Chechen rebels, the Israeli government offered this week to send humanitarian aid to the besieged civilian population in Grozny.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry published an official statement on Monday expressing Israel’s “deep concern” about the crisis and said it is ready to extend humanitarian aid to Chechnya in coordination with Russian authorities.
Last year, Israel sent medical supplies and personnel to Zaire, where Rwandan refugees were fleeing a civil war raging in their country.
The statement said that Israel views the Chechen crisis as an internal matter of the Russian Federation. But it also called on Moscow to make every effort to settle the conflict peacefully.
Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin said the aid effort would not affect Israeli relations with Russia.
“I don’t think it will create any tension in relations between Russia and ourselves,” he said. “We are of course worried, like everybody else, by seeing the scenes from Chechnya, and we hope it will not go on so that people will not have to suffer from this dispute.”
Foreign Ministry officials said contacts are underway to explore the possibility of sending medical supplies and other humanitarian aid to the war- ravaged area.
Russia’s ambassador to Israel, Alexander Bovin, has welcomed the Israeli gesture.