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For the first time in 10 years the number of immigrants to Israel has risen this year, according to Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky and Immigration and Absorption Minister Sofa Landver.

In 2009, 16,244 people immigrated - a 17 percent jump over last year's 13,859.

The number of immigrants from English-speaking countries has also increased by 17 percent this year, from 4,511 to 5,294, said Eli Cohen, the director-general of the agency's aliyah department.

"After 10 years during which we saw less and less immigrants, now we see an increase," said Sharansky yesterday at a press conference at the Jewish Agency's Jerusalem headquarters. "This year there were more immigrants from the former Soviet Union, more immigrants from the United States, from Britain and from South Africa - there's an increase from almost everywhere."

The largest number of new immigrants still comes from the former Soviet Union, where the numbers increased by 21 percent from 5,867 to 7,120.

Sharansky and Landver attributed the climb to what the Jewish Agency calls its "Red Carpet" program, which includes so-called aliyah fairs for new arrivals during which they are assisted with their initial absorption, such as opening bank accounts, choosing health care providers, etc.

The numbers presented at yesterday's press conference include four planeloads of immigrants who are scheduled to arrive in Israel this week, but exclude Ethiopians who moved to Israel this year, as they did not immigrate according to the Law of Return but based on a special law, called the Law of Entrance.