Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday ordered to construct a fence at a cost of NIS 1.5 billion along two segments of Israel's border with Egypt, in an attempt to stem the infiltration of migrant workers as well as of terrorist elements into Israel.
"I took the decision to close Israel's southern border to infiltrators and terrorists. This is a strategic decision to secure Israel's Jewish and democratic character," Netanyahu said in a statement.
Thousands of African and other migrants have come to Israel through its porous border with Egypt over the last few years.
Netanyahu said Israel would "remain open to refugees" from conflict zones but added, "we cannot let tens of thousands of illegal workers infiltrate into Israel through the southern border and inundate our country with illegal aliens."
The barrier will not be erected along the whole border, and advanced surveillance equipment will help border control officers to spot infiltrators.
Two segments will be built in the plan's first phase, one near the southern city of Eilat and the other near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip.
The Defense Ministry's NIS 1.5 billion plan was favored over a NIS 2.2 billion plan to erect the fence presented by the National Roads Company of Israel.
Egyptian police have stepped up efforts in recent months to control the frontier with Israel following an increase in human trafficking through Egypt. At least 17 migrants have been killed by Egyptian police since May.
Last week, Palestinian protest against Egypt's attempt to seal off its border with the Gaza Strip caused the death of one Egyptian police officer, with at least a dozen Palestinians wounded in a shooting scuffle along the Egypt-Gaza border.
One official said Wednesday that the border guard was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper while Gazan youths hurled stones across the border at the Egyptian security forces.
Egyptian forces opened fire on Palestinians who were pelting them with rocks from the other side of the border over frustration that an aid convoy had been delayed.
Gaza's Hamas rulers called for the protest earlier over the delay of an international aid convoy at the nearby Egyptian port city of El-Arish, but soon lost control of the situation as hundreds of youths began hurling rocks across the border at the guards