by ICEJ News Service, Nov. 19, 2002
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has committed to "redoubling" the nation's efforts to bring famine threatened Ethiopian Jews home to Israel as part of ambitious plans to encourage over a million Jews to make Aliyah -- or "return" to Israel in the next ten years.

Sharon told Immigration and Absorption officials in Jerusalem last week that his government has always prioritized Aliyah and "will be making an effort to redouble our work to bring Ethiopian immigrants to Israel."

He spoke even as Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Sanawi warned that his nation faces a worse famine now than that of 1984 -- which claimed nearly a million lives.

An estimated 20,000 Ethiopian Jews are waiting to come to Israel, but the current pace of immigration is considered by advocacy groups as painfully slow -- less than 2,500 have arrived this year, several hundred less than in 2001, according to the Jewish Agency.

Sharon's spokesman Ra'anan Gissin said the situation of the Ethiopians waiting to come is complex, because it is unclear how many of them are Jewish and thus eligible to immigrate under the Law of Return.  Many are considered Falasha Mura, from families that converted to Christianity for economic reasons preserving some of their Jewish traditions.  But the question of their identity must be answered, Gissin said.  They are living there in dire conditions, with very little food.

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