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Environment

Israel starts work on border barrier with Egypt

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli bulldozers began laying the groundwork Monday for construction of a barrier to seal off part of the Jewish state’s border with Egypt, the defense ministry said.

Israel wants to stop illegal migrants from Africa entering the country via Egypt’s Sinai desert, and to block the smuggling of drugs and weapons.

The desolate Sinai is used as a transit route by African migrants seeking work or asylum in Israel. They are usually guided to the border for a price by local Bedouin.

Egyptian border troops have shot dead at least 28 migrants this year before they could cross.

“We are currently working to secure 140 km (88 miles) of the 250 km (156-mile) border and it will include both a physical barrier and electronic early- warning scanners,” Udi Shani, a top defense ministry official, told lawmakers Monday.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Israel was constructing the barrier to protect its citizens and stop “the illicit importation of drugs ... people smuggling and ... the infiltration into Israel of terrorists who want to kill our people.”

Heavy earth-moving equipment started work on several stretches of the border. The project is expected to take over a year to complete at a cost of 1.35 billion shekels (about $370 million), the defense ministry said.

A barrier that would secure the entire border still requires government approval and could see the cost of the project rise to about 4 billion shekels (over $1 billion)

The Israel-Egypt border stretches from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in the north to the Israeli resort city of Eilat on the Red Sea in the south. Much of it is open with only border patrols and watch towers monitoring the barren landscape.

Writing by Ori Lewis; editing by Mark Heinrich

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