Some 250 North American Jews landed at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.

The Israeli government has sought to restore immigration to pre-2000 levels, which sharply declined in the past three years since the start of the al-Aqsa Intifada on 28 September 2000.

In 2002-2003, Israel received 1520 immigrants from 33 US states and four Canadian provinces.

Palestinian political analyst Dr Abd Allah Abd Allah told Aljazeera that Israel is pushing for Jewish emigration because many Israelis have recently left the country.

He also said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is trying to demographically ensure that the establishment of a Palestinian state is no longer viable or practical.

Jewish agencies

Several Jewish organisations such as the Department of Aliya (Immigration) and Absorption for the Jewish Agency, and Nefesh B'Nefesh - Jewish Souls United - are working to facilitate the immigration of Jews from North America to Israel.

While Nefesh B'Nefesh focuses on assimilating North American Jews into Israeli society, the Jewish Agency is an international network that seeks, promotes and funds Jewish emigration from such countries as France, Yemen and Ethiopia.

According to estimates from Nefesh B'Nefesh, more than 1500 US and Canadian Jews are to re-settle in Israel.

However, Palestinian officials are concerned that an increase in the influx of Jewish immigrants means new illegal settlements will be built on occupied Palestinian land.

French outrage

Some 200 French Jews arrived in Israel on 28 July, nearly two weeks after Sharon called on French Jewry to leave their homes because of alleged rampant anti-Semitism in France.

Despite Israeli promises, new
settlements are cropping up

His remarks angered France as they implied that the country was anti-Semitic, and that the French government was not going far enough to protect Jews and their assets.

Sharon tried to correct the damage from his earlier statements as he welcomed the French Jews saying "We therefore very much appreciate the determined actions of the French government, as well as the French president's stand against anti-Semitism. We hope that his determination will serve as an example to other countries as well."

Colony expansion 

Meanwhile, amid Arab fears of resettling new Jewish immigrants in illegal settlements, the European Union has criticised Israel's plans to expand an illegal Jewish colony on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Maale Adumim, the largest of the West Bank settlements situated close to Jerusalem, is home to 28,000 Jewish residents. New home units currently under construction are expected to house a further 2000 colonists.

In a brief statement released on Tuesday, the Dutch EU presidency said such plans ran counter to both "the letter and the spirit of the road map for peace that Israel has accepted".

"The presidency urges both Israel and the Palestinians to abide by their obligations under the road map in close cooperation with the Quartet," it added, referring to mediators the EU, United States, United Nations and Russia.

Egypt also added its voice to international denunciation, with Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Ghait describing the proposed expansion as part of an "Israeli policy of provocation".

Abu al-Ghait (R) welcomed US
criticism of the expansion plan



The expansion is "a blatant violation of Israel's commitments under its agreements, UN Security Council resolutions and the road map, which clearly calls for an end to settlement activities," he said.

Under the terms of the road map peace plan, Israel is obliged to freeze all illegal settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territories where about 245,000 Jewish settlers live.

The Egyptian minister welcomed Washington's comments criticising the Israeli decision.