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EL-ARISH, Egypt - Egyptian border guards shot and killed an Eritrean woman and arrested her two young daughters Saturday after they tried to cross illegally into Israel, security and medical officials said.

The victim, identified as 37-year-old Mervat Mer Hatover, and her daughters, ages 8 and 10, were among a group of African refugees who paid hundreds of dollars to human traffickers to help them cross into Israel, said a security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

The guards chased the Africans along Egypt's border with Israel near Kontala, some 30 kilometers south of the Aouja crossing point, firing into the air and ordering the refugees to surrender, according to the official.

Hatover refused and tried to jump over the barbed wire marking the border when guards opened fire on her, he added.

Hatover died from a bullet wound to the head, said Imad Kharboush, head of the emergency unit at el-Arish hospital, where the victim's body was transferred. Kharboush said he received an order from a military prosecutor to carry out an autopsy.

On Jan. 30, two African refugees from Ivory Coast were shot dead under similar circumstances.

Israel estimates that 2,800 people, mostly from Africa, have entered the country illegally through its border with Egypt in recent years searching for jobs.

Elisheva Milikovsky, who has volunteered to work with the Sudanese refugees, told Haaretz recently that there are some 2,600 asylum seekers residing in the Tel Aviv area, of which hundreds live in shelters, and some 6,000 nationwide.

The number shot up last summer, apparently as word spread of job opportunities in Israel and a more lenient policy toward refugees. As many as 50 people arrived each day in June, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Early Friday morning, 123 Sudanese refugees infiltrated Israel through the border with Egypt, on the outskirts of the Gaza Strip.

An Israeli Defense Forces spokesperson told Haaretz that the refugees entered Israel in small groups, at different locations along the border.

Haim Yellin, head of Eshkol Regional Council, expressed his anxiety about the ease with which people are able to cross the border into Israel.

"The border with Egypt is porous and invites into Israel people who are undesirable," he said.