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The relatives of a Jewish man murdered last year in Yemen were among the three families brought to Israel on a secret Jewish Agency mission earlier this week, a member of the Arabian peninsula state's Jewish community said on Tuesday.

The 16 Jews left Yemen on Sunday, the same day a state appeals court handed a death sentence to Abdul-Aziz al-Abdi for shooting dead Mashaa Yaeesh al-Nahari in December.

The three families come from Amran in the north but were living in the capital Sanaa because of deteriorating security amid a rebellion in neighboring Saada province by a Shi'ite tribal group.

"The Jewish Agency took charge of the operation to move the Jews after they previously helped a family of 11 to leave," said the source who declined to be named.

There are an estimated 200 to 300 Jews in Yemen, mainly in Sanaa, remnants of a centuries-old community that spoke Hebrew. About 50,000 moved to Israel in an airlift begun in 1949.

Israel defines itself as a Jewish state and offers citizenship to Jews from anywhere in the world.

Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, is struggling with a Shi'ite revolt in the north, a secessionist movement in the south and growing militancy among Sunni al Qaeda sympathizers.