Middle East

Yemeni Jews brought to Israel in secret mission

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The final group of Jewish immigrants from Yemen arrives in Israel accompanied by an ancient Torah scroll (20 March 2016) Image copyright Arielle Di-Porto for The Jewish Agency for Israel
Image caption The Jewish Agency said attacks against Jews in Yemen had risen sharply since 2008

Some of the last remaining Jews in war-torn Yemen have been brought to Israel in a secret mission.

The Jewish Agency, which is responsible for Jewish immigration to Israel, said 19 people had arrived in recent days, among them a rabbi carrying a 500-year-old Torah scroll.

The non-profit organisation said some 50 Jews had chosen to stay in Yemen.

Since 1948, 51,000 Jews have emigrated to Israel from Yemen, which has one of the world's oldest Jewish communities.

Almost all of them were brought to Israel as part of Operation Magic Carpet in 1949 and 1950.

In recent years, some 200 Jews have left as attacks against the Jewish community have increased and the country has descended into war.

'Highly significant'

The Jewish Agency announced on Monday that the group landed in Israel on Sunday night following a "complex covert operation".

Image copyright Arielle Di-Porto for The Jewish Agency for Israel
Image caption The group from Raydah brought a Torah scroll believed to be between 500 and 600 years old

"Nineteen individuals arrived in Israel in recent days, including 14 from the town of Raydah and a family of five from Sanaa," a statement said.

"The group from Raydah included the community's rabbi, who brought a Torah scroll believed to be between 500 and 600 years old."

The Jewish Agency said attacks against Jews in Yemen had risen sharply since 2008, when Jewish teacher Moshe Yaish Nahari was murdered in Raydah.

In 2012, Aharon Zindani - whose son and four other relatives were on board Sunday's flight to Israel - was murdered in Sanaa and a young Jewish woman was abducted, forced to convert to Islam, and forcibly wed to a Muslim man, it added.

After the conflict between the Yemeni government and the rebel Houthi movement escalated a year ago, when a Saudi-led coalition intervened militarily, the Jewish community found itself increasingly imperilled and covert operations to spirit Jews out of Yemen were stepped up.

The Jewish Agency said some 50 Jews remain in Yemen, including approximately 40 in Sanaa, where they live in a closed compound adjacent to the US embassy and enjoy the protection of Yemeni authorities.

Both the capital and Raydah are controlled by the Zaidi Shia Houthi movement, whose slogan is: "God is great. Death to America. Death to Israel. A curse on the Jews. Victory to Islam."

Image copyright AP
Image caption The Houthi rebel movement's slogan is: "God is great. Death to America. Death to Israel. A curse on the Jews. Victory to Islam."

Sunni jihadist militants from al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS) have also gained ground by taking advantage of the unrest.

The Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky, said the arrival of the final group of Jewish immigrants from Yemen was "a highly significant moment in the history of Israel".

"From Operation Magic Carpet in 1949 until the present day, the Jewish Agency has helped bring Yemenite Jewry home to Israel. Today we bring that historic mission to a close."

"This chapter in the history of one of the world's oldest Jewish communities is coming to an end, but Yemenite Jewry's unique, 2,000-year-old contribution to the Jewish people will continue in the State of Israel."

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