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Sixteen Yemenite Jews arrived in Israel on Sunday afternoon in a secret immigration operation orchestrated by the Jewish Agency.

Jewish Agency representatives were seen of late in Yemen as part of their efforts to organize this mission, Arab media reported.

The Agency carried out a similar operation in March, when it rescued a family of 10 whose lived were apparently threatened by Al-Qaida agents in their native Yemen.

Yemenite Jews have the special protection of the President of Yemen Ali Abdallah Salah. In recent years, however, anti-Semitic attacks against Jews have spiralled out of control.

An appeals court on Sunday sentenced to death a Muslim convicted of killing a Yemeni Jew, overturning a previous verdict ordering the man to pay the victim's family a fine instead of facing capital punishment.

The family had criticized the previous verdict, which was issued in March when the judge found Abdel Aziz Yehia Hamoud al-Abdi, a retired Yemeni air force pilot, mentally unstable.

During the earlier trial, Al-Abdi admitted gunning down a Jewish teacher, Moshe Yaish Nahari, in December in Omran town north of the capital, San'a. He said he warned other Jews they must convert to Islam or be killed.

After Ahmed al-Budani read the verdict Sunday, al-Abdi told the judge this sentence is an honor to me. The ruling could be appealed to the supreme court.

The original ruling was unusual because Islamic law normally stipulates a man convicted of murder can only be spared the death penalty if the victim's family agrees to compensation, known as diyah in Arabic. The family refused to accept the fine, which the judge set at about $27,500 (5.5 million riyals), and vowed to pursue the death penalty.

Nahari was one of the roughly 400 Jews still living in Yemen - mostly in Raydah, a small town north of the capital. Yemen was once home to about 50,000 Jews in the early 1950s, but most emigrated to Israel.