Israel has approved a plan to erect fences along its long southern border with Egypt in a bid to halt the growing number of illegal workers entering the Jewish state, officials said Monday.
The barrier will be built in two main parts of the border — along the southwest portion near the Gaza Strip town of Rafah, and near the Red Sea city of Eilat. In total, the fences will cover 120 kilometres of the 250 km-border between Israel and Egypt.
About 19,000 refugees seeking asylum have crossed into Israel since 2005, according to the Hotline for Migrant Workers, an Israeli human rights organization, and only about half of the 150,000 migrant workers living in Israel entered the country legally.
Israeli police estimate between 100 and 200 illegal immigrants also cross the border from Egypt every week.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement the decision to erect the fences was made "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," he said.
Gaza blockade leads to conflict
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said ministers approved the border fence plan Sunday evening.
Israel has called on Egypt to tighten its border patrols, and since then, Egyptian police have shot migrants and suspected smugglers while trying to cross the border.
A Gaza border clash last Wednesday over an international aid convoy attempting to enter Gaza from Egypt left one Egyptian guard dead and 15 Palestinians wounded.
The clash erupted a day after Egyptian border officials would not permit a portion of an aid convoy into Hamas-controlled Gaza to pass through its checkpoints. Israel has blockaded Gaza for 28 months, since Hamas took control of the territory.