JERUSALEM (AP) -- A semi-governmental Israeli organization said Thursday it brought 17 Yemeni Jews to Israel, secretly helping them escape the political unrest in their Arab homeland.
The "airlift" was conducted clandestinely because Yemen and Israel share no diplomatic ties, and to protect the lives of those Jews who still remain in Yemen under threat of attack, said Jewish Agency official Ariel Di Porto.
The official said the Yemeni Jews from the city of Radda came to Israel Wednesday evening on two flights. Two couples and a child arrived through a third country, which she would not identify for security reasons. The rest of the two couple's children arrived from Buenos Aires, Argentina, where a Hasidic Jewish community had sheltered them for the past two years. Hasidic Jews from the anti-Zionist Satmar movement have helped spirit out Jews from Yemen in recent years, Di Portio said.
Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky said the "rare operation" had saved lives and that his organization was working to bring to Israel any Yemeni Jew who wishes to leave the country.
According to the Jewish Agency, about 150 Yemini Jews have moved to Israel since 2009 amid threats from al-Qaeda-linked militants in Yemen. In late 2008, a Jewish teacher was killed, and in mid-2012, a Jewish community leader was killed, the Jewish Agency said.
The U.S. considers the local al-Qaida branch, also known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, to be the world's most active.
The Jewish Agency said fewer than 90 Jews live in Yemen, half of them in a guarded compound which protects the U.S. Embassy in the capital of Sanaa.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.