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Libyan Jews claim £100m for seized wealth

Sunday Telegraph 11.01.04

By Inigo Gilmore
In Jerusalem

Exiled Jews are launching a multi-million pound compensation claim for property sized in Libya after Col Muammar Gaddafi signalled that he would consider making payments in his latest effort to end historic enmities.

The case is being assembled by the Israel-based Organisation for Libyan Jews and the country's justice ministry. Libyan Jewish leaders say that the confiscated homes, businesses, synagogues, cemeteries and community buildings are worth well in excess of £100 million.

Jews also owned large tracts of land, which are estimated to be worth tens of millions of pounds.
Col. Gaddafi said that he was ready to compensate Libyan Jews for confiscated property while addressing his popular committee for public security and justice last week, according to Al Bawaba, leading pan-Arab news, and other Arab press outlets.

Last Friday, families of 170 people killed in the 1989 bombing of a French UTA airliner - an incident blamed on six Libyans - signed a £92 million compensation deal with Tripoli in the country's latest attempt to mend relations with the west.

Yoram Abib, the chairman of the Union of Libyan Jews, said: "We want to organise a private delegation, without any politicians, to visit Gaddafi so we can push forward this process of compensation because we Mizrahi Jews [Jews from the Arab World] understand the Arab world and its leaders."

Raffaello Fellah, a Libyan Jew who lost everything he owned when he left Libya in 1948, has met Col Gaddafi on a number of occasions since 1993.

"I believe that Gaddafi is sincere about this and we should not underestimate his courage to take bold decisions", said Mr. Fellah, the co-chair of the World Organisation of Jews From Arab Countries.
"I believe he is committed to paying compensation for the property. He has clearly decided this is in Libya's interest to start a new chapter. "But we are inviting Jews and our friends in Britain and the United States not to create any provocation. If we allow the music to play then we will all dance."

Libya's Jews formed one of the world's oldest Jewish communities, stretching back more then 2,500 years. By 1941, Jews accounted for a quarter of Tripoli's population, maintaining 44 synagogues before the German invasion. Between 1949 and 1951, however, more then 30,000 Jews left, mostly for Israel. By the time Col-Gaddafi launched the coup that brought him to power in 1969, just 500 Jews remained in Libya.

He subsequently confiscated all Jewish property and cancelled all debts owed to Jews. By 1974, there were no more then 20 Jews left, and the one survivor was reported to have died in 2002.
Now Libyan Jewish leaders hope that their chance of compensation will not be undermined by the row that broke out with in the Israeli government after news emerged of a secret meeting between Israel's foreign ministry officials and Col Gaddafi's son Seif al-islam.

The Offices of Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister, and Silvan Shalom, the foreign minister, are at loggerheads, with the later accusing "hardliners" from Mr. Sharon's entourage of attempting to sabotage the initiative by leaking details. That prompted Libyan officials to deny that any meeting took place.

"Things have been crazy these past few days with many, many people phoning me to ask about compensation and what they might be able to get," said Rami Cahalon, 72, the Chairman of the International Organisation for Libyan Jews, a larger group.

He said that it was 20 years since Libyan Jews tried to audit the property they had lost and warned that the row within Israel threatened to undermine the current effort.

"Certainly we are taking this very seriously but we must be patient and we must tread carefully. There is a lot of work to be done but I hope we will succeed."


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