15 Sudanese Asylum Seekers Shot to Death by Egyptian Police While Trying to Cross to Israel

Officials say asylum seekers ignored warning shots and sprinted toward the fence; another eight people were wounded.

Egyptian soldiers guarding the entrance to the Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport gesture to a photographer in south Sinai, Egypt, November 6,2015.

 A group of Sudanese migrants were on Sunday caught up in the crossfire of a gun battle between Egyptian security forces and Bedouin smugglers as they were about to illegally enter Israel from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, security and hospital officials said. Fifteen of the migrants were killed and eight were wounded in the cross fire, they said.

Another eight migrants were arrested unhurt by the Egyptians and were being interrogated, they added.

The officials had earlier said that the 15 Sudanese migrants were killed by security forces as they approached the wire fence separating Sinai from Israel at a border point some 17 kilometers (12 miles) south of Rafah, an Egyptian town on the border with the Gaza Strip.

Details of the circumstances of their death were only made available later on the day, they explained.

The Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, had no immediate comment on the incident.

Most of the wounded were in serious condition after they suffered wounds to the chest and stomach, they said.

The death of the 15 ended a lull in attempts by migrants to cross into Israel from Sinai, mostly because of stricter surveillance and stepped up military operations in the area by Egyptian security forces battling Islamic militants led by a local affiliate of the extremist Islamic State group.

All Egyptian officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Sunday's death toll is among the highest in a single incident involving Sudanese migrants in Egypt since 2005, when Egyptian riot police used water cannons and truncheons to brutally clear a ramshackle encampment set up by Sudanese refugees in an upscale Cairo neighborhood. The migrants had hoped to draw attention to their demands to be resettled in a third country.

Israel's Interior Ministry says more than 45,000 African migrants and asylum seekers, including many Sudanese, are in Israel. Many say they are fleeing conflict and persecution and are seeking refugee status. Israel says they are economic migrants whose growing numbers threaten the country's Jewish character.