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Israeli media reveals extent of Jewish emigration from Iraq

JERUSALEM, Nov. 4 (JTA) – Iraq has permitted about 80 Jews to emigrate secretly during the past five years, according to an Israeli television report. Israel’s Channel Two television station reported Monday that the secret operation involved the payment of large sums of money to Iraqi officials, but provided no additional details. Most of the Jews moved to Britain and the Netherlands. A few immigrated to Israel. Fewer than 60 Jews remain in Iraq, the report said. The Jewish Agency for Israel, the organization mandated by the Israeli government to deal with immigration-related matters, refused to comment on the report. Meanwhile, many Israelis are reportedly exchanging their gas masks for new ones, fearing the escalation of tensions between the United States and Iraq over U.N. weapons inspections. As many as 6,000 Israelis per day have been contacting the country’s gas mask distribution centers, compared to 2,000 daily before the crisis, according to the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot. The United States has warned Iraq against expelling American members on U.N. inspection teams, which Iraq has been threatening to do since last week. Iraq countered Monday by threatening to shoot down U.S. spy planes being used by international monitors in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War. During that war, when a U.S.-led coalition drove Iraqi soldiers from Kuwait, Iraq bombarded Israel with Scud missiles. Israeli officials feared at the time that the missiles were carrying chemical warheads and distributed gas masks to the population.