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Israel 'rescues' 19 Jews from war-torn Yemen in covert operation

March 21, 2016

JERUSALEM: Israel has extracted 19 Jews from Yemen in a "complex, covert operation," officials said on Monday, noting they were among the last remaining in the war-torn country.

The Jewish Agency, responsible for Jewish immigration to Israel, said around 50 Jews are still in Yemen and have chosen to remain there. Yemenite Jews are considered one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world.

"Nineteen individuals arrived in Israel in recent days, including 14 from the town of Raydah and a family of five from Sanaa," the agency said in a statement.

"The group from Raydah included the community's rabbi, who brought a Torah scroll believed to be between 500 and 600 years old."

Yemen has been gripped by violence since September 2014, when Houthi rebels, who had long complained of marginalisation, stormed Sanaa and forced the internationally recognised government to flee south.

A Saudi-led coalition began bombing raids on Houthi positions across Yemen in March last year but the insurgents still control swathes of the country including the capital.

Al Qaeda and the millitant Islamic State group have gained ground in southern Yemen since the coalition launched its air campaign.

The Jewish Agency says more than 51,000 Yemenite Jews have immigrated to Israel since the country was founded in 1948.

Nearly 50,000 were brought over in 1949 and 1950 in a secret operation known as Operation Magic Carpet.