Israeli PM suspends deportation plan for African migrants

Israeli navy vessels patrolling the Mediterranean Sea

Israel announced on Monday it had reached a deal with the United Nations refugee agency to cancel a controversial plan to deport African migrants and replace it with a new one that will see thousands sent to Western countries. Both countries have denied having any deal in place with Israel. Under the agreement, a minimum of 16,250 migrants would have instead been resettled in Western nations.

He added: "We do not have a contract, any understanding, formal or informal, with Israel for them to dump their refugees here".

The country said the migrants would be given up to $3,500 for leaving within the next 90 days.

The UN refugee agency urged the PM to reconsider.

After meeting with residents yesterday, Netanyahu said he had weighed the pros and cons, and he "decided to cancel the agreement".

On Monday Netanyahu announced live on television an arrangement with the UNHCR agency that would have relocated about 16,250 migrants to Western countries.

Violent clashes broke out last Friday between Palestinian protestors and Israeli soldiers near the Israeli border with Gaza Strip, where Palestinians held a mass rally, known as "Great March of Return", that is expected to last until May 15.

Outside a government complex in Tel Aviv where Netanyahu said he was scrapping the deal, several African men wrapped themselves in chains in a protest that put their sense of powerlessness on display.

In a joint statement, Israeli human rights groups condemned the decision to cancel the agreement, accusing Netanyahu of playing "political games".

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"After having heard numerous comments on the agreement, I have examined the pros and cons and have chose to cancel the agreement", Netanyahu said in a statement.

"I hear you, and first and foremost the residents of south Tel Aviv".

His calls were soon echoed by members of Netanyahu's own Likud party.

Netanyahu's critics seized on his backtracking on the arrangement - under which thousands of other migrants would have won the right to remain in Israel - as a sign of political weakness.

In return, Israel would grant temporary residency to one migrant for each one resettled elsewhere. The rest would receive legal status in Israel. But just hours later he reversed course, saying he was putting it on hold.

Israel's use of live fire last week has been criticised by rights groups, while the European Union and the United Nations chief, Antonio Guterres, have called for an independent investigation.

Some 35,000 African migrants in Israel now face uncertainty over their fate after years of battling a plan to stend them back to Africa.

Hardliners in Netanyahu's coalition criticized the deal and pressured Netanyahu to suspend it.

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