The immigrants demonstrated on Sunday outside Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's offices as part of a campaign to persuade the government to allow their relatives to join them in Israel.

The protesters carried photos of their relatives and demanded the lifting of immigration restrictions.

Most of their relatives left behind belong to the Falash Mura community, Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity about a century ago and who are concentrated around Addis Ababa and the northeastern Gondar province.

The government gave the green light in February for some 20,000 of them to immigrate under Israel's law of return, which says that Jews anywhere in the world have the right to make the aliyah (ascent) to Israel and claim citizenship.

But Interior Minister Avraham Poraz, from the secular Shinui party, has said that he will not allow them to arrive en masse without assurances that more candidates will not seek to immigrate by citing familiy ties.

During Operation Moses in 1984 and Operation Solomon in 1991, about 35,000 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Israel.

Their community in Israel now numbers about 80,000, including several hundred in West Bank settlements, but doubts about their Jewishness have sparked intense debate among religious authorities and Israeli society.

The essentially rural Falash Mura community has had to bridge a wide cultural gap and has faced a difficult integration into Israeli society. The Ethiopians suffer from discrimination and high unemployment.