‘Last stage’ of Ethiopian aliyah set to begin

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A charter flight of some 240 Ethiopian Jews that landed in Israel was described by the Israeli government as the launch of the final stage of mass immigration from Ethiopia.

Monday’s flight marks the start of Operation Dove’s Wings, an Israeli government initiative to bring the remainder of the Falash Mura — Ethiopians claiming links to descendants of Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity generations ago, but who now are returning to Jewish practice — to Israel by March 2014.

The Ethiopians are waiting in Gondar, where Jewish aid compounds provide the Ethiopians with schooling, medical aid and some welfare services.

The flight is the first of a series of scheduled monthly flights.

Last July, the Israeli government decided to increase the rate of aliyah from Ethiopia in order to complete the process as quickly as possible.Some 160 Ethiopians are scheduled to arrive each month for the next 10 months, according to the Jewish Agency.

The Jewish Agency’s Ibim Absorption Center, a student village in southern Israel located near Sderot, will accommodate up to 600 of the new immigrants. The center was opened with $3.1 million in assistance from the Jewish Agency and $1.4 million from the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption.

A ceremony to welcome the new Ethiopian immigrants took place Monday featuring Israeli government officials, as well as officials from Israeli and American philanthropic organizations aiding the Ethiopians.

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