Israel has completed the main segment of a razor-wire fence along its border with Egypt.
The five-meter high fence, bolstered by military surveillance equipment, is touted by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as proof of his commitment to Israel’s security as he campaigns for a national election on January 22.
Israel says the barrier has been built to deter illegal migrants and Islamist fighters hiding out in Egypt’s lawless Sinai region.
The final 14km section will be completed within the next three months, leaving the fence stretching from Israel’s Red Sea port of Eilat to the Gaza Strip on the Mediterranean.
In the desert beyond, Islamist groups have expanded in a security vacuum caused by the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, with efforts to re-impose central authority proving slow.
Gunmen killed at least 16 Egyptian border guards in Sinai last August, hijacking an armored vehicle which they smashed across the frontier before they were killed by Israeli forces.
With security and illegal immigration a target of his campaign, Netanyahu traveled by military helicopter to the southern frontier for a ceremony on Wednesday marking the completion of the 230km section of fence.
Netanyahu’s government has accelerated its construction, deported some migrants and imposed legal penalties on Israelis who hire them without work permits.
Thirty-six migrants crossed illegally into Israel last month and were arrested, compared with 2,153 who entered a year ago, Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.
“Just as we stopped completely the infiltration into Israeli cities, we will succeed in the next mission – the repatriation of tens of thousands of infiltrators already in Israel to their home countries,” it cited Netanyahu as saying at the ceremony.
More than 60,000 Africans have entered Israel on foot in recent years seeking work or refuge.
They have stirred fears for public order and some have come under racially-motivated attack.
The bulk are from Sudan or Eritrea and Israel’s ability to repatriate them is limited. Sudan’s government is hostile to Israel and Somalia is deemed a ravaged danger zone by refugee advocates.
Israel portrays the vast majority of the migrants as illegal job-seekers. Humanitarian agencies say many of them should be considered for asylum.
(Agencies and Al Jazeera – www.aljazeera.com)