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Israel to build surveillance fence along Egyptian border

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  • Israel to build surveillance fence along Egyptian border

    January 11, 2010 -- Israel is to build a fence equipped with advanced surveillance tools along part of its border with Egypt to keep out African migrants and illegal workers. The two-year project will cost around 1 billion shekels (£170 million) and is intended to challenge the increasing number of migrants trying to cross into Israel from Egypt's Sinai desert. Israeli police say between 100 and 200 African migrants arrive every week. Some come for work, others to escape political persecution. Some are jailed, many are simply turned back.

    The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, said the fence would also deter militants, although it will cover only part of the border. "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," he said. Although he said Israel would be open to refugees from conflict zones, he added: "We cannot let tens of thousands of illegal workers infiltrate into Israel through the southern border and inundate our country with illegal aliens."

    The fence appears primarily intended to stop Africans looking for asylum or work from crossing through Egypt into Israel, rather than to prevent terrorist attacks. When complete, the new sections of fence will mean Israel will be almost entirely fenced in. On its international borders Israel already has heavily-patrolled fences with Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. The Egyptian border will only be partly fenced under this new plan.

    In recent years Israel has built fences with the occupied Palestinian territories too: the Gaza boundary is marked with an electronic fence and inside the West Bank a vast concrete and steel barrier has been half-built, ostensibly for security but which many believe may yet become a political border. "We need a fence, as I said 10 years ago, with all of our neighbours," said Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister. "With the Palestinians we need two states for two people, a fence that will surround a solid Jewish majority, we will be here and they will be there."

    The full length of the border is around 170 miles (270km), but the fence will be built only in two areas, according to Israeli reports. One part will run south and east from Gaza for around 30 miles, while a second fence will run north from the Israeli city of Eilat over another 30 miles. It will have two layers of fencing, one with barbed wire, and a radar to alert Israeli border patrols to anyone trying to cross. Electronic devices will cover the area between the two fences.

    In recent years there has been a sharp increase in the number of African migrants trying to cross into Israel. Some are able to stay and find short-term work, but very few get the official refugee status they seek and which some of them do deserve. Many come from Sudan, including Darfur, others come from Eritrea and elsewhere in Africa. There are Christians and Muslims but their arrival has brought a sharp debate in Israel, a country built in large part on the wave of Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust in Europe. Israeli officials believe many migrants are simply coming to find work in the nearest developed economy, rather than being on the run from political persecution at home. Human rights workers in Israel say some do have genuine asylum cases and that those seeking asylum should be individually screened and assessed.

    Egyptian police also patrol the desert border with Israel and have reportedly stepped up their attempts to stop people illegally crossing. They have killed at least 17 migrants in the past year. Egypt is also now building an underground steel wall along its short border with the Gaza Strip, apparently under pressure from Israel and the U.S. to crack down on the smuggling industry on which Gazans have become reliant.

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    CAIRO, January 11, 2010 (KUNA) -- Israel's plan to build a security fence along its border with Egypt is of no concern to the Egyptian government as long as it remains on Israeli soil, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abul Gheit said on Monday. "This issue does not concern us at all," Abul Gheit said in a press release. "Israel is building something on its own soil and there is no link between that security fence and our construction along the border with Gaza," Abul Gheit added. Egypt is constructing an underground barrier and has played down the scope of the some 14-km-long wall. The Israeli plan to build a barrier along the borders with Egypt was approved by the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli radio said. The construction will take two years, by building two sections of fences, the first near Rafah in the south, and the other near Eilat in the north, and it will include high technology systems, including radars to detect movement of humans, it reported.


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