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Benjamin Netanyahu rejects calls for Israel to take more refugees – and pledges to build a fence instead

Prime minister says Israel has 'neither demographic or geographic depth' to take refugees, instead announcing a new 18-mile border fence

Jess Staufenberg
Sunday 06 September 2015 17:11 BST
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on September 6, 2015
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on September 6, 2015 (AFP/Getty)

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dismissed an urgent call from his opposition leader to "not be apathetic" in the face of desperate Syrian refugees.

The leader of the ruling right-wing Likud Party said Israel was "not indifferent" to the fates of families fleeing persecution from its northern neighbour - which it considers an enemy state - but that the country was not big enough to take them.

He has instead announced that a new 18-mile fence will be built along the frontier with Jordan, Reuters has reported.

His words were in contrast to Isaac Herzog, who is leader of opposition party the Zionist Union. It was created out of the Labor Party and liberal Hatnuah party at the last 2015 election to try to unseat Mr Netanyahu.

Mr Herzog said this week that Israel was duty-bound to absorb refugees from the civil war, reported the Times of Israel.

"It is incumbent on Israel to take in refugees from the war and push for the establishment of an urgent international conference on the issue,” he was reported as saying on Channel 10 television by the Times of Israel.

“Jews cannot be apathetic when hundreds of thousands of refugees are searching for safe haven."

According to the Jerusalem Post, Mr Netanyahu said: “We have conscientiously treated thousands of wounded from the fighting in Syria, and we have helped them rebuild their lives.

“But Israel is a very small country, with neither demographic or geographic depth, and therefore we must control our borders.”

His words suggest 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.

This was backed by his further comments that "African migrants" and "Islamist militants" must not be allowed inside the country's borders, according to Reuters. Many of the African diaspora are also fleeing brutal dictatorships in Eritrea and Somalia.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, has pointed out that many Palestinian refugees continue to live in sub-human conditions in Syrian camps. He said they should be allowed into the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where he exercises limited self-rule.

But Israel has said the right of return for Palestinian refugees would be decided only as part of a final peace settlement. Israeli-Palestinian talks broke off in 2014.

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