Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved plans yesterday to erect a barrier along part of Israel’s border with Egypt and install advanced surveillance equipment to keep out illegal migrants and militants.
“I took the decision to close Israel’s southern border to infiltrators and terrorists. This is a strategic decision to secure Israel’s Jewish and democratic character,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
Thousands of African and other migrants have come to Israel through its porous border with Egypt over the last few years, fleeing conflict back home or searching for a better life in the Jewish state.
Netanyahu said Israel would continue to accept refugees from conflict zones but “we cannot let tens of thousands of illegal workers infiltrate into Israel through the southern border and inundate our country with illegal aliens.”
The project will cost 1 billion shekels (£168 million) and take two years to complete. The barrier will not be erected along the whole border, which is 266 km (166 miles) long.
Advanced surveillance equipment will help border control officers to spot infiltrators.
Egyptian security sources in North Sinai said Israel had not informed the Egyptian authorities of its plan.
One security source said the project was an internal Israeli matter “which Egypt has nothing to do with as long as the fence is built on Israeli soil.”
Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Husam Zaki said the ministry would issue a statement on the plan today.
Egyptian police have stepped up efforts in recent months to control the frontier with Israel following an increase in human trafficking through Egypt. At least 17 migrants have been killed by Egyptian police since May.
Israel is also building a controversial barrier in and around the occupied West Bank. It says the razor-tipped fences and towering concrete walls are needed to stop suicide bombers from infiltrating its cities. Palestinians call it a land grab because it cuts through the West Bank in places.
Israel has so far built about half the planned 670 km (400 mile) long West Bank barrier.
A concrete barrier separates Israel from the Gaza Strip in the south and a network of razor-tipped and electronic fences stretches along its borders with Lebanon and Syria in the north.
Egypt is building an underground barrier along its border with the Gaza Strip to stem Palestinian arms smuggling through tunnels.