Eilat residents were stunned to find African infiltrators – some actually staggering – in their yards in the wee hours of Wednesday.
The local police switchboard was flooded with calls from panicky residents who worried the trespassers might have been terrorists.
At least 100 of the infiltrators had sneaked into the country through the Egyptian border and managed to reach the Red Sea resort city. They had walked for four days through the Negev desert under the burning hot sun.
Those who did not quite reach the city were found near the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline installation.
Many were in a state of exhaustion and asked residents for water. Some were seeking medical care as well, local sources said.
The infiltrators were picked up by IDF soldiers later in the morning.
Egyptian authorities have largely abandoned efforts to control the Sinai border with Israel since the 31-year regime of former President Hosni Mubarak was toppled in a grassroots uprising in February.
Eilat Mayor Yitzchak haLevi sent an urgent letter to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, pointing out that the 96 infiltrators had walked around his city, knocking on random doors, asking for food and water.
“Given the serious incident that occurred this morning... I turn to you and demand you act in any way fit to defend the residents of Eilat,” HaLevi wrote. “Today it's illegal aliens, tomorrow it's going to be terrorists sent by Islamic movements.”
Figures from the Border Authority indicate that more than 2,600 infiltrators have sneaked into the country since January.
More than 500 have arrived since the beginning of this month.