Israel’s Netanyahu rejects calls to take in Syrian refugees

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu rejects calls to take in Syrian refugees after their plight in Europe strikes chord in Israel, says Israel too small.

JERUSALEM (SEPTEMBER 6, 2015) (REUTERS) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday (September 6) Israel could not afford to take in refugees fleeing the war in neighbouring Syria and vowed to surround Israel with security fences on all its borders.

Israel and Syria are enemy states but images of thousands of refugees being herded on and off trains in Europe, beaten by police and facing barbed-wire fences have struck a chord in Israel, created three years after the Nazi Holocaust which killed six million Jews.

The plight of the Middle East and African refugees flooding Europe prompted calls on the government to take in Syrians fleeing the war, but Netanyahu struck down the notion.

“Israel is not indifferent to the human tragedy of the refugees from Syria and Africa. We have already dedicatedly treated about one thousand wounded people from the battles in Syria helping them rebuild their lives,” Netanyahu said at the start a cabinet meeting.

Israel regularly treats Syrians, civilians and fighters, wounded in battles across the frontier.

“However, Israel is a very small state. It has no geographic depth or demographic depth,” Netanyahu said, suggesting that taking in Arab refugees would upset the demographic balance in a predominantly Jewish state where about a fifth of the 8.3 million population are Arab citizens.

Rather, Netanyahu said, Israel must further secure its borders to fend against African migrants and Jihadi fighters.

“As much as it is possible, we will surround Israel with a security fence that will allow us to control our borders. We will not let Israel be flooded infiltrators, job-seeking migrants, and terror activists,” Netanyahu said.

The Israeli leader spoke a day after Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog on Saturday (September 5) called on the government to allow Syrian refugees find shelter in the Jewish State.

“We need to help (Syrian refugees), to continue to provide humanitarian assistance which is already being given and also, if needed, to participate in taking in refugees, the same way the other countries will do. In addition we should also make an effort, as part of a global effort, to handle the Syrian issue,” Herzog said in Tel Aviv.

Netanyahu announced at the meeting that works on building a new 30 km (18 mile) stretch of fence that will run northward from Eilat along a now often porous Jordanian border would start on Sunday.

Israel completed construction of a 230 km (143-mile) barrier along the Egyptian border in 2013 with the aim of stopping an influx of migrants from Africa and guarding against raids by Islamist insurgents.

It signed a peace treaty with Jordan in 1994 and one with Egypt in 1979.

The country has hi-tech fences in the north on the Lebanon border and along the Golan Heights boundary with Syria. Much of the West Bank is also divided by a network of fences, barriers and walls, while the Gaza Strip is closed off behind high fences and walls.