Egypt police kill four migrants at Israeli border

EL-ARISH, Egypt, Sept 9 (Reuters) - Egyptian police shot dead four African migrants as they tried to slip across the sensitive Sinai desert border into Israel on Wednesday, security sources said. The shootings were believed to be the deadliest single border incident involving primarily African migrants, and came days before Egyptian and Israeli leaders are due to hold political talks in Cairo.

Security sources said two more migrants, both Ethiopians, were shot and wounded, and one was in a critical condition. The nationalities of the dead were not immediately known, because they carried no identification papers.

Egyptian police have killed at least 12 African migrants at the frontier since May, ending a six-month lull in known fatalities as police responded to what security sources have said was an increased flow of human traffic through Egypt.

Egypt, which for years tolerated tens of thousands of African migrants on its territory, fears the unfettered flow of migrants at its strategic Sinai border could pose a security threat in an area where it already fears inroads by Islamist militants who sometimes find refuge in remote craggy mountains.

Its border with the Jewish state is a main transit route for generally unarmed migrants and refugees seeking work or asylum in Israel. Egypt has faced Israeli pressure to halt the flow.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is due to hold talks on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday in Cairo, state news agency MENA said. Border issues were not mentioned as part of the agenda.

Eritreans are the single largest group of migrants attempting to cross into Israel from Egypt, although Ethiopians and Sudanese from the country's south and the war-torn Darfur region also brave the trek.

Analysts and aid workers say the flow of migrants from the Horn of Africa through Egypt to Israel has increased in recent months as it has become more difficult to travel on other northward routes, such as via Libya to Europe. [ID:nLS359973]

Monthly migrant arrests by Egypt at the border have surged this year, rising five-fold in May to 55 and then doubling again to 114 in June and 160 in July, security sources said. That compares to just six arrests in January.

Cairo also deported hundreds of Eritrean asylum seekers back to Asmara last year despite objections from the United Nations, which feared they could face torture, and has come under criticism from rights groups for its treatment of migrants.

Additional reporting by Yusri Mohamed in Ismailia; Writing by Cynthia Johnston; editing by Michael Roddy