Meeting Plans Evacuation of Remaining Ethiopian Jews.
By Arutz-7 News Service
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called a meeting of senior ministers Monday to discuss the plight of more than 3,000 Ethiopian Jews whose situation has been described as increasingly precarious. The Jews in question were left behind in Qwara, in a remote region of northern Ethiopia, when 14,000 others were airlifted to Israel during the dramatic, two-day "Operation Solomon" airlift in 1991.
The Jewish Agency and Israel's Ambassador to Ethiopia, Ariel Kerem, say about 2,500 of them have left Qwara and are gathered in a transit camp in Gundar, where they are awaiting the opportunity to fly to Israel and be reunited with family members already in Israel.
Conditions at the camp in Gundar are said to be deteriorating, with malnutrition on the rise and more infants dying. War in the region adds to the dangers.
The Interior Ministry, which is controlled by the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, has been accused of delaying approving the arrival of more of the Ethiopians, whose Jewishness is questioned by some rabbinical authorities.
But the ministry rejects the allegation, saying the real reason for the hold-up is the fact ministry representatives have been unable to visit Gundar for three months because of ongoing conflict in the region. Interior Minister Eli Suissa said last week Israel must rescue the Ethiopians from the "present danger and deliver them to safety."
Ethiopia and neighboring Eritrea have been engaged in a bloody border war since May 1998, and fighting has stepped up in recent months. Just in the past week, Eritrea has claimed to have killed more than 4,000 Ethiopian soldiers.
However, Kerem has warned against any high-profile airlift, which he said would result in a diplomatic row with Addis Ababa. He said a discreet operation may be wiser, and suggested that the number of flights to Israel be increased to enable around 500 immigrants to make the journey each week. The entire Qwara community could thus emigrate within several months.
At Monday's meeting, Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon was instructed to coordinate the effort to bring the Jews to Israel, while Immigration Absorption Minister Yuli Edelstein was appointed to head a team to oversee their absorption into Israeli society. The government also decided to send food and medical assistance to the Qwara Jews.
Eritrea won independence from Ethiopia in 1993, but bilateral relations soured over disputed land along the badly-demarcated, 1,000-km border between them. All-out war erupted a year ago.
The worsening conflict is threatening to draw in Kenya, Somalia, and perhaps even Libya, which is already reportedly supporting Eritrea quietly.