JERUSALEM (AP) — Some of Yemen's last remaining Jews have arrived in Israel after a clandestine operation retrieved them from the war-torn country, an Israeli nonprofit group said Monday.
Over the last few days, 19 Yemenite Jews landed in Israel — among them a rabbi carrying a centuries old Torah scroll —according to the Jewish Agency, which works closely with the Israeli government and acts as a link to Jews around the world.
The rabbi, Saliman Dahari, said the Torah scroll he brought is 800 years old, handed down over the generations.
Some of those airlifted to Israel relayed in Yemenite accented Hebrew to Israeli media the horrors of the fighting in Yemen along with dangers they faced from extremist groups.
Hundreds of Jews have arrived in Israel from Yemen in recent years, but the most recent arrivals could mark the end of this immigration. The 50 remaining Jews in Yemen want to stay in the country, the agency said.
"This is a highly significant moment in the history of Israel," said Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency. "Yemenite Jewry's unique, 2,000-year-old contribution to the Jewish people will continue in the State of Israel."
The Jewish Agency would not disclose details of the secret mission, which it said was a "complex covert operation." It named the mission "Miktze Teiman," a Hebrew phrase taken from a biblical verse that roughly translates as "from the ends of Yemen." Israeli Channel 2 TV said the U.S. State Department was involved, a report the Jewish Agency declined to comment on.
The new arrivals leave behind a civil war raging in Yemen and a spate of anti-Semitic attacks in the country, which the Jewish Agency said was endangering the community.
The Jews that have chosen to stay in Yemen mostly live in the capital, Sanaa, where they dwell in a closed compound next to the U.S. embassy and enjoy the protection of Yemeni authorities, the agency said.
Some 50,000 Jews have arrived to Israel from Yemen since 1949 and have grown to become an integral part of Israeli society.