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NEW YORK - Despite the intifada and economic difficulties in Israel, the rate of immigration from North America has risen by about 20 percent in 2003, according to Jewish Agency statistics released yesterday.

About 2,400 people immigrated from the United States and Canada in 2003, compared to about 2,040 in 2002, according to the agency's North American aliyah department.

In addition, the number of young North Americans who visited Israel on Jewish Agency programs has doubled in 2003 from the previous year, with more than 900 youth participating, the agency found.

Michael Landsberg, head of the Jewish Agency's North American aliyah department, told Haaretz yesterday that most of the past year's immigrants are college-educated professionals under 35. The immigrants include a professor, doctors, engineers and families with many children, he said.

Landsberg also said there was greater awareness of the Naaleh program to support the immigration of youth who move to Israel without their parents. A group of 100 Jewish students has recently left for Israel to take a training course for young aliyah activists. For the first time, the group includes about 30 Russian-speaking students.

Landsberg cited the security situation as a reason for immigration, saying people want to help Israel in a crisis. He said potential immigrants are also attracted to Israel's opportunities for higher education.