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Israel to Take Remaining 20,000 Jews from Ethiopia (REUTERS) By Allyn Fisher-Ilan JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 02/01/05)Source: http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=topNews&storyID=7498360 Reuters News Service Reuters News Service Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel will double the pace of Jewish immigration from Ethiopia in order to bring out the remaining 20,000 members of the Falasha Mura group by 2007, officials said on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon approved the decision on Monday to allow 700 Falasha Mura a month to fly to the Jewish state from the impoverished Horn of Africa nation, starting in June.

Israel is already home to more than 100,000 Jews of Ethiopian origin, who trace their roots to the biblical King Solomon and Queen of Sheba.

Most were flown to Israel during the 1980s and early 1990s, at times of hunger and political turmoil in Ethiopia. Known as Falasha, they had remained Jewish during the centuries they spent in Ethiopia.

But large numbers of Falasha Mura, Jews who converted to Christianity in the 19th and 20th centuries, remained in Ethiopia. Claiming Jewish blood, they were eager to migrate to Israel and escape the hardships of life in the Horn of Africa.

Several thousand have been able to leave since the 1990s, when Israel recognized the group´s claim of Jewish descent. Once in Israel, they undergo a ritual conversion to Judaism.

Officials said Sharon had requested $115 million to finance the increase in immigration. The money would help cover the cost of initial housing and Hebrew language lessons for the Ethiopians, Israel´s most impoverished immigrant group.

Some 2,000 Ethiopian immigrants demonstrated outside Sharon´s office on Monday, holding up photographs of relatives waiting in transit camps in Ethiopia for immigration permits.

Sharon´s office said he had emphasized to cabinet ministers that "he places great importance on immigration."

Israel had planned a few years ago to speed up the arrival of Ethiopian immigrants, but later shelved the idea because of budget problems as recession set in amid the violence of the 4-year-old Palestinian uprising.

Immigration from other countries has flagged in recent years, a decrease blamed on the violence and the recession. (© Reuters 2005 02/01/05)

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