Israel Working to Extract Citizens, Eligible Immigrants Out as Fighting Escalates Around Gondar

The Israeli government is closely monitoring the fighting in the Amhara region of Ethiopia and working to extract the more than 100 Israeli citizens in the area, as well as the dozens of local Jewish community members waiting to immigrate, as clashes continued between government forces and the Fano militia group, an Israeli official familiar with the matter told eJewishPhilanthropy.

The fighting began last week between the Ethiopian National Defence Force and the regional militia group, apparently driven by the national government’s efforts to weaken and disband such paramilitary groups, including those — like Fano — that had worked with the ENDF during Ethiopia’s civil war in Tigray, which ended last November.

As battles between Fano and the ENDF escalated in recent days, the Ethiopian government declared a state of emergency, halting almost all travel into and out of Amhara, including from the city of Gondar, home to one of Ethiopia’s largest Jewish communities, which has seen some of the fiercest battles.

In response, Immigration and Absorption Minister Ofir Sofer organized an “emergency forum,” made up of representatives from his office, from the Foreign Ministry, the National Security Council, the Mossad and the Jewish Agency for Israel, according to the Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic.

There are an estimated 50 Israelis in Amhara, many of whom are in Gondar, but also spread throughout the region, which makes it more complicated to maintain contact with them and rescue them, the official said. Some of these Israelis are in Ethiopia visiting family, while others are there volunteering with the local population. In addition, there are approximately 60 Ethiopians eligible for Israeli citizenship who are waiting to make aliyah (immigrate).

“We are trying to find solutions. Obviously, every solution needs to be coordinated with the Ethiopian government,” the Israeli official said.

In addition to the more than 100 Israelis and immigrants-to-be, there are thousands of Ethiopians in Gondar with family members in Israel who are hoping to move to the Jewish state. They are not recognized as being Jewish or as being the children or grandchildren of Jews, nor do they have first-degree Israeli relatives, which under Israeli law would have made them eligible for citizenship. (There are no precise numbers of how many residents of Gondar fit this description, but it is generally estimated to be between 5,000 and 10,000.)

As they are neither Israeli citizens nor are they immediately eligible for Israeli citizenship, it is unlikely that they will receive direct assistance from the Israeli government at this time.

On Friday, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said in a statement that the Israeli Embassy in Ethiopia and representatives of the ministry in Israel were “in contact with local authorities and other embassies from key countries in order to find when and how [the Israelis and eligible immigrants] can get out of the area.”

A Foreign Ministry spokesperson on Tuesday said there is nothing new on this front.

“We hope there will be a rescue operation quickly,” a spokesperson for the immigration and absorption minister told eJP.

Both Israel and the United States have issued travel advisories for the Amhara region. The Israeli Foreign Ministry has called for any Israelis in the area to remain in their homes, to contact the Israeli Embassy in Addis Ababa and to keep their cellphones close by.

Source : E Jewish Philan Throphy

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