Barak: Egypt border fence by 2010

Fence would cover less than half of border; Meridor: Israel may step up Gaza operations.

Barak 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Barak 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Two days after his ministry came under attack for failing to stem the tide of illegal infiltrations along the Egyptian border, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Tuesday that within two years, a fence will be built along 85 kilometers of the border. The fences, which would cover less than half of the entire length of the isolated desert border, are designed to stem the tide of illegal migrants, smugglers and would-be terrorists. The two pieces of the fence slated to be built cover 70 kilometers of the Nitzana region from Be'erotayim in the south to Rafah in the north, and 15 kilometers directly paralleling and just north of Eilat - two areas viewed as particularly attractive to border infiltrators. Barak made the statement while visiting the Mt. Sagi region, a part of the border south of Nitzana that is popular among smugglers due to its harsh terrain and narrow wadis. Barak was accompanied on his visit by Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i, Deputy Chief of General Staff Maj.-Gen. Dan Harel and OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant. Barak's visit came only two days after a stark increase in border infiltrations spurred Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to hold a special cabinet meeting concerning the matter of the border. Last week, over 400 people infiltrated into Israel across the Egyptian border. Israeli Ambassador to the US Sallai Meridor said Tuesday night that unless Egypt acts to stop weapons smuggling into Gaza, Israel will be forced to increase its operations. "We hope that the Egyptians will indeed stop terrorists from crossing the border, but unless they do so, Israel will have to act." At the Sunday cabinet meeting, the Defense Ministry and the IDF came under fire for not doing enough to crack down on the infiltration. But on Tuesday, Barak complimented the efforts of the security forces operating in the region. "There have been very important successes in the fight against terror. There are repeated attempts to smuggle weapons, bomb belts and IEDs through the smuggling routes, and the IDF will continue to struggle against these attempts," said Barak during his visit. "The operational activities in this area are important for stopping terror, preventing crime, and also stemming the tide of migrant workers. The people doing this work are soldiers, intelligence officers and Shin Bet agents who labor every night and every day, in fog and in cold." During the Sunday meeting, Barak presented his ministry's plan to build a "smart" fence along the two key areas. For some, however, Barak's plan did not seem ambitious enough. Later Tuesday, the Likud Party proposed a bill that would facilitate building a fence along the entire Israel-Egypt border. The bill would give additional funds to the fence-building project, and would streamline the process in order to achieve a complete fence along the entire border within two to three years.