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Israel To Allow Entry of 17,000 Ethiopian Refugees - 2003-02-16


Israel's cabinet decided Sunday to allow about 17,000 Ethiopians waiting in refugee camps to move to the Jewish state.

The cabinet agreed to allow in up to 95 percent of the 20,000 Ethiopians, who have applied for immigration, claiming they are Jews. Known as the Falash Mura, they had converted to Christianity but have maintained some Jewish traditions.

Many had moved from outlying areas of Ethiopia in anticipation of being accepted for immigration to Israel and had rented mud huts near two compounds in Addis Ababa, the capital, and the northern city of Gondar.

Some had already succeeded in immigrating after proving they had either a Jewish grandparent or to be reunited with other family members who had moved to Israel.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai, a member of the Jewish ultra-orthodox Shas Party, was appointed to head a ministerial committee to oversee the process.

He told the cabinet that the decision should be implemented immediately because the Ethiopians waiting in camps were living in what he called difficult and even dangerous conditions.

About 80,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel. Many of them were brought over in massive Israeli airlifts during times of crisis in 1984 and 1991.

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