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Netanyahu cancels deal with UN to resettle African migrants

The move came after pressure from Mr Netanyahu’s nationalist allies who lashed out against the deal.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cancelled an agreement with the United Nations to resettle thousands of African migrants.

The move came after pressure from members of his coalition prompted him earlier to suspend the agreement.

Mr Netanyahu suddenly announced he was suspending the deal on Monday night, just hours after touting it on national television, until he could meet with Israeli residents of south Tel Aviv, which has areas with large migrant populations.

After meeting with residents on Tuesday Mr Netanyahu said he had weighed the pros and cons and he “decided to cancel the agreement”.

The move came after pressure from Mr Netanyahu’s nationalist allies who lashed out against the deal.

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African migrants wear chains to represent slavery during a demonstration in Tel Aviv, Israel (Sebastian Scheiner/AP)

Naftali Bennett, leader of the nationalist Jewish Home party, tweeted shortly before Mr Netanyahu’s statement nullifying the deal that the agreement “is bad for Israel”.

He said “it’s not enough to suspend it, I call on the prime minister to cancel it completely”. He added: “Its approval would cause generations of crying and determine a precedent in Israel granting residency for illegal infiltrators.”

Mr Netanyahu had announced on Monday afternoon that Israel agreed to cancel the planned expulsion of the migrants.

The deal called for sending about half of the 35,000 African migrants to Western nations and allowing the rest to remain in Israel.

Dozens of migrants and their Israeli supporters protested against the suspension outside the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem and government offices in Tel Aviv as Mr Netanyahu met with the neighbourhood representatives.

Some protesters stripped to the waist, draped themselves with chains and taped their mouths shut at a protest in Tel Aviv. Others waved signs reading “human lives are not to play with. Yes to the deal”.

Protester Daniella Elyashar called on Mr Netanyahu to “stop this political game”.

Another protester, Veronika Cohen, said “yesterday we were in tears of joy and this morning just in tears”.

Hardliners in Mr Netanyahu’s coalition strongly criticised the deal for allowing thousands of Africans to remain after the prime minister announced it.

Labour Party leader Avi Gabbay criticised the sudden turnaround on Army Radio questioning if defence decisions are also made in the same manner.

“It is sad, troubling and even a little scary that decisions are made that way,” Mr Gabbay said. He accused Mr Netanyahu of leadership based on polls and comments on social media.

Israeli commentators attacked Mr Netanyahu for folding to pressure.

Writing in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper, Sima Kadmon noted Mr Netanyahu’s decision “lasted for just six hours and 45 minutes” before “an important and courageous decision by the prime minister was trampled under the boots of the right wing divisions”.

Most of the African migrants are from war-torn Sudan and Eritrea, the latter having one of the world’s worst human rights records.

The migrants say they are asylum-seekers fleeing danger and persecution, while Israeli leaders have claimed they are merely job seekers.

The Africans started arriving in 2005 after neighbouring Egypt violently quashed a refugee demonstration and word spread of safety and job opportunities in Israel. Tens of thousands crossed the desert border with Egypt before Israel completed a barrier in 2012 that stopped the influx.

Thousands of African migrants are concentrated in neighbourhoods in south Tel Aviv, where ethnic food shops and phone card stalls line the streets, and the area has become known as “Little Africa”.

This has sparked tension with the working-class Jewish residents who have been putting pressure on the government to find a solution.

Residents complained the agreement does not address their needs and demanded assurances that remaining migrants will be dispersed around the country as promised.

The prime minister’s turnaround threw into limbo the surprise agreement, which had finally offered a solution to an issue that has divided Israel for a decade.

The deportation plan had been widely criticised at home and abroad, even by some of Israel’s closest supporters.

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