Wednesday, January 15, 2003

SANAA, Yemen, Jan. 15 (UPI) — Foreign embassies in Sanaa have been aiding members of Yemen’s tiny Jewish population to emigrate to Israel by way of European countries, a Yemeni opposition weekly said Wednesday.

Al Wahdawi, mouthpiece of the opposition Nasserist party, quoted informed sources as saying a number of foreign embassies were arranging for Jews to go first to their countries and then on to Israel. Yemeni law bans Jews from emigrating.

The weekly did not name the foreign missions or the countries the Jews passed through.

In 1947, at the time of the creation of the state of Israel, there were some 50,000 Jews in the territory that is now the Yemen Arab Republic. But following widespread anti-Semitic violence, the great majority left for Israel by 1950. Today only a few hundred are believed to remain.

According to a 1997 U.S. State Department report, Jews in Yemen are allowed to practice their religion. However, they are treated as second-class citizens and cannot serve in the army or be elected to political office. Jews are traditionally restricted to living in one section of a city or village and are often confined to a limited choice of employment, usually farming or handicrafts. Jews may own property.

Al Wahdawi said the “smuggling” of Yemeni Jews became known following a reported recent arrival in Egypt of Ethiopian Falasha Jews.

Last June, independent news reports said 70 Jews left for Israel with the help of a well-known Yemeni merchant and that more such operations were expected.

These reports referred to high-level secret contacts between Yemen and Israel with the participation of other parties to allow some 300 Jews, living mostly in the northern part of Yemen, to reach Israel.

According to what were described as Israeli reports, seven Yemeni Jewish families who immigrated to Israel 18 months ago asked Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to allow them to return to their homeland because of economic difficulties in Israel and their inability to integrate into Israeli society.

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