Egypt Says Israel's Plan for Border Fence 'Is Not Our Concern'

Defense Minister Ehud Barak yesterday voiced support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plan to build a security fence along Israel's border with Egypt.

Meanwhile, Egypt said the fence was of no concern to it as long as it remains on Israeli territory.

"We need a fence and we need two states for two peoples. Good fences make good neighbors," Barak said.

Netanyahu approved plans on Sunday to build the NIS 1.5 billion barrier along part of the border, to keep out infiltrators, including migrants and militants. "This issue does not concern us at all," Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Egypt's foreign minister, said yesterday. "Israel is building something on its own soil and there is no link between that security fence and our construction along the border with Gaza."

Egypt is constructing an underground barrier to stem Palestinian arms smuggling into Gaza and has played down the scope of the dig on the 14-kilometer frontier.

Hossam Zaki, the ministry's spokesman, said Israel had informed Egypt of its plan for the new fence within the past month. The fence is not expected to include, at the first stage, topographically problematic areas remote from from populated places.

However, leaving mountain areas open would cause ecological hazards in places adjacent to nature reserves, said Gilad Gabai, the Nature and Parks Authority's southern district deputy manager.

"Infiltrators and border crossers would move their activity into the areas adjacent to large nature reserves, because the other places will be fenced. The IDF will also step up activity there. It will be a problem," he said.

Gabai said the fence will probably be built near populated areas threatened by terrorist attacks, such as Eilat and the Shalom region communities. "It's all a matter of money," said Gabai.

"According to what we've been told, they're going to focus on areas where it's easier to penetrate [the border]. In mountainous areas, in contrast, if someone crosses the border it would take them longer to reach a populated area."

The fence in the Judean Desert has been delayed for the time being due to budget reasons and pressure from environmentalists, who say the barrier will cause grave damage to the desert.

"It's better to have a continuous fence along the entire border than the present situation, in which the army holds operations to detect infiltrators and smugglers," said Gabai.

"This will change if there's a fence," he said.

The authority asked the defense establishment to install electronic surveillance devices instead of a fence in especially sensitive areas, such as the Gishron stream near Eilat.

The authority also requested that the fence be built as close to the border line as possible so as not to restrict hikers in the nature reserves.

The Sinai border is a main transit route for usually unarmed African migrants and refugees seeking work or asylum in Israel. Egyptian police say the smugglers who ferry migrants to the border region sometimes fire on security forces.

Egyptian police have stepped up efforts to control the frontier following an increase in human trafficking. At least 17 migrants have been killed by Egyptian police since May.