Israel to build 2 fences on Egyptian border
Seeks to bar flood of asylum seekers, Islamic militants
JERUSALEM - Israel’s prime minister has ordered the construction of two massive fences along the long and porous southern border with Egypt, saying he wants to stem a growing flood of African asylum seekers and to prevent Islamic militants from entering the country.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the structure would help preserve Israel’s Jewish majority, while providing a layer of protection along an open border with an area suspected of having an Al Qaeda presence.
“I decided to close Israel’s southern border to infiltrators and terrorists after prolonged discussions,’’ he said. “This is a strategic decision to ensure the Jewish and democratic character of the state of Israel. Israel will remain open to war refugees, but we cannot allow thousands of illegal workers to infiltrate into Israel via the southern border and flood our country.’’
The two fences will cover nearly half of the 150-mile border. One section will be near the Red Sea port of Eilat. The other will be in southwest Israel, near the Gaza Strip town of Rafah.
Government spokesman Mark Regev said government ministers approved the plan Sunday evening. He said a date has not been set for construction and it is unclear how long it would take to complete the fences.
The project is expected to cost about $400 million, according to local media reports.
The structure would come in addition to a massive fence that surrounds the Hamas-controlled Gaza frontier with the West Bank, biting into chunks of the territory as it runs. Egypt has its own fence along Gaza’s southern border and is reinforcing the area with underground metal plates to shut down tunnels used to smuggle goods and weapons into Gaza.
In a separate development yesterday, Israel’s defense minister said it would take years before the country’s new rocket defense system would be fully deployed along borders with Gaza and Lebanon. Ehud Barak predicted that once the barriers are in place, they will significantly reduce Middle East hostilities.
Last week, Israel announced it had successfully completed testing the Iron Dome system, designed to protect civilians from short-range rockets fired by Hamas militants in Gaza and Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. The military did not say when the system would become operational. , The planned Egypt fence, like the West Bank and Gaza barriers, is rooted largely in security concerns, along with efforts to keep illegal migrants out, Israel says.
Correction: Because of an editing error, this story mischaracterized the project. The story should have stated the structure would be in addition to a massive fence surrounding the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, as well as a separation barrier that snakes along parts of Israel’s more than 400-mile frontier with the West Bank.