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Immigrants Charge Ethiopian Government Holding Jews Ransom

July 13, 1990

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Ethiopian leader Mengistu Mariam Haile is denying 10,000 Jews permission to emigrate to Israel as a way to get military supplies from the Jewish state, a leader of the Ethiopian community here said today.

The accusation comes amid reports that Mengistu’s hard-line Marxist government is teetering as secessionist rebels gain ground in their battle to topple him.

An Israeli government spokesman said the claim was untrue.

Rahamim Elazar, chairman of the Public Council for Ethiopian Affairs in Israel, said Mengistu was demanding arms from Israel in exchange for allowing more Jews to leave his country for Israel.

″Mengistu is trying to use them for military aid,″ he said.

Israel has sought to bring out all of Ethiopia’s Jews since immigration was cut off in 1984 when a secret airlift campaign known as Operation Moses was halted after the Ethiopian government learned of it.

About 8,000 Ethiopian Jews were brought to Israel in the U.S.-supported, three-month operation. About 15,000 Jews are believed to remain in the North African country.

Elazar told The Associated Press that 10,000 Ethiopian Jews were encamped in Addis Ababa after leaving villages in the province of Gondar in hope of eventually emigrating to Israel.

The Jews went to the Ethiopian capital after Israel and Mengistu’s government resumed diplomatic relations in October, Elazar said. He said his information came from Jews who managed to leave Ethiopia.

On Wednesday, the chairman of the U.S. House Subcommittee on African Affairs charged that Mengistu was trying to pressure Israel into supplying Ethiopia with 1,000 cluster bombs.

Rep. Howard Wolpe, a Michigan Democrat, was quoted by the newspaper Washington Jewish Week as warning Mengistu not to use Ethiopian Jews to pressure Israel. Avi Pazner, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, denied that Mengistu asked Israel to supply him with weapons. He also denied that Ethiopia was placing obstacles in the way of Jews wanting to leave.

″The situation there is so complicated, there is a war there, confusion, famine,″ said Pazner. ″This is the reason they are being held up.″

An Italian newspaper reported Saturday that Mengistu made a secret visit to Israel on July 3 to meet Israeli leaders. Israeli officials denied the report.

In January, The New York Times quoted unidentified U.S. officials as saying they strongly suspected Israel had supplied Ethiopia with cluster bombs for it war against the rebels. Other reports said Israel also supplied Mengistu with military advisers, ammunition and spare parts.

Israel has denied it supplied cluster bombs to Ethiopia. It has refused to confirm or deny reports of other supposed arms sales under its standing policy of not discussing any weapons deals.

A recent article in the independent Hebrew daily Haaretz written by Zeev Schiff, a respected military analyst, said U.S. officials were trying to damage Israel’s image by fabricating the reports of cluster bomb sales.

The United States has criticized Israeli support for Ethiopia. The U.S. government objects to sale of cluster bombs without Washington’s permission since the weapons were developed with U.S. technology.

Update hourly