6 African migrants killed in gunbattle with Bedouin traffickers, border guards in Egypt

EL-ARISH, Egypt (AP) — Six African migrants trying to cross into Israel were killed in clashes with Bedouin traffickers and Egyptian border guards in the Sinai Desert, security officials said Saturday.

The traffickers had tied up around 300 of the illegal migrants, but several managed to escape and grab weapons from their captors, setting off Friday's fighting, the two officials said, quoting from witness statements. The smugglers were demanding more money to take the migrants, most of whom were from Eritrea, to Israel, they said.

Around 100 of the migrants escaped, according to the officials. Four migrants were killed in the clashes with the Bedouin smugglers, and two more were later shot dead by Egyptian border guards, they said.

Hundreds of Africans seeking political asylum or jobs in Israel try to sneak across the border each year, helped by Bedouin traffickers who charge up to $1,000 for the trip. Dozens have been shot dead by Egyptian border guards.

Two of those who escaped Friday's clash were killed by Egyptian guards at the Israeli border, according to medical and security officials. Two others managed to sneak into Israel.

Egyptian police arrested 22 others, the two security officials said. All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. One of those arrested was seriously wounded.

The United Nations has criticized Egypt for killing more than 60 African migrants trying to reach Israel through the Sinai Desert since 2007. The government says it fires warning shots first.

Despite the border shootings, the number of illegal migrants attempting to cross into Israel is rising. Most of them come from Sudan and the Horn of Africa. The number of African asylum-seekers in Israel is around 20,000.