16 September 2009

Egyptian police kill two Eritreans at Israel border

ISMAILIA, Egypt, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Egyptian police shot dead two Eritrean migrants trying to cross into Israel on Wednesday, bringing to 14 the number of migrants killed in an upsurge of border violence since May, security forces said.

Police on a routine patrol along Egypt's Sinai desert border with Israel saw six migrants trying to cross a barbed wire fence that separates the two countries, and ordered them to stop.

Police opened fire when the migrants ignored their orders to stop and fled toward Israeli territory, first shooting into the air before firing at the migrants, the security sources said. Two migrants were killed, and four others wounded.

Police have stepped up efforts to control the sensitive border with the Jewish state since May, ending a six-month lull in known fatalities as authorities responded to what security sources say is an increased flow of human traffic through Egypt.

Egypt's border with Israel is a main transit route for generally unarmed African migrants and refugees seeking work or asylum in Israel, although Egyptian police complain the smugglers who ferry the migrants to the border region sometimes fire on security forces.

Egypt, which for years tolerated tens of thousands of African migrants on its territory, is under Israeli pressure to halt the flow of migrants.

Egyptian authorities also say they are concerned the flow of migrants at its Sinai border could pose a security threat in an area where Islamist militants sometimes find refuge.

Analysts and aid workers say the flow of migrants from the Horn of Africa through Egypt to Israel has increased in recent months as it has become more difficult to travel on other northward routes, such as via Libya to Europe.

Eritreans are the single largest group of migrants attempting to cross into Israel from Egypt, although Ethiopians and Sudanese also make the trek. (Reporting by Yusri Mohamed; Writing by Patrick Werr; Editing by Jon Hemming)