JERUSALEM: Israel will begin building a huge barrier along its southern border with Egypt "within weeks" in a bid to curb the entry of illegal immigrants, the prime minister’s office said on Wednesday.
At a meeting of the 15-member security cabinet, defense officials told ministers that work would begin on the 250-kilometer (155-mile) border fence next month, a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said.
The government in March approved construction of the barrier which is expected to cost some 1.35 billion shekels ($365 million) and will comprise fencing and other unspecified technological measures.
Israeli Cabinet Secretary Tzvi Hauser said Wednesday that a security committee has given the green light for construction, AP reported.
"The problem of illegal infiltrators along the southwestern border is a threat to the Jewish and democratic character of the State of Israel," the statement quoted Netanyahu as saying.
"I want to see tangible results regarding the start of work on the ground barrier within the coming weeks," he said, adding that the security cabinet would reconvene on the issue a month later.
He also urged those working on the barrier to consider other ways of preventing illegal immigrants from entering Israel while it is being built, saying: "The urgency of the problem requires focused treatment."
The Israel-Egypt border has become a major transit route for economic migrants, asylum-seekers and drug smugglers, and Israel has asked Egypt to clamp down on the traffic.
Egyptian border guards often shoot at African migrants who pay smugglers for passage into Israel to escape poverty and look for work, and many have been killed.
There has been an influx of Africans seeking refuge in Israel in recent years. Many enter via the scantily guarded border. Israel says at least 1,000 people enter the country illegally from Egypt each month.