AL-QUDS — Israel has begun building a fence along part of the country’s eastern border with Jordan as Syrian civil war refugees and other migrants flee their countries.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday: “We see today what happens when countries lose control of their borders.”
He seemed to be referring to the massive influx of refugees from the war-torn Middle East and African migrants heading to Europe.
Netanyahu earlier bemoaned the “human tragedy” of Syria’s civil war and said Israel has aided its victims. However, he said Israel is too small to take them.
Israel already built fences along its border with Egypt to stop African migrants and in the Golan Heights bordering Syria.
Netanyahu on Sunday rejected a call by Israel’s opposition leader to provide refuge to Syrian refugees, saying the country is too small to take them in.
Isaac Herzog, head of the main opposition Zionist Union party, appealed to Israeli leaders to “absorb refugees from the fighting in Syria,” a northern neighbor that Israel considers an enemy state.
In public remarks at a cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said Israel was “not indifferent to the human tragedy” of refugees from Syria and noted that Israeli hospitals have been treating wounded from its civil war.
“However, Israel is a very small state. It has no geographic depth or demographic depth,” the right-wing premier 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.
Though there have been no international calls on Israel to open its borders to Syrians, Herzog said Netanyahu had a moral duty to accept refugees.
“The prime minister of the Jewish people would not shut his heart and the gates when people are fleeing for their lives, with babies in their arms, from persecutors,” Herzog said.
Citing dangers faced by Palestinian refugees who have long lived in camps in Syria, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said they should be allowed into the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where he exercises limited self-rule.
Israel has said the overall issue of a right of return for Palestinian refugees would be settled only as part of a final peace accord. Israeli-Palestinian talks broke off in 2014.
At the cabinet session, Netanyahu coupled his remarks on Syrian refugees by saying that Israel must further secure its borders against African migrants and militants. — Agencies