In this Thursday, Dec. 23, 2010 file photo, dozens of African migrants cross into southern Israel through the border with Egypt. -AP Photo

JERUSALEM: Israel on Friday allowed a group of migrants to enter from Egypt's Sinai peninsula amid tension across the border, despite its policy to stop the flow of illegal immigration.

An army spokeswoman said troops deployed at the border where Israel is building a high-security barrier found a few foreigners who were trying to sneak into Israel and allowed them to cross over.

“In consideration of the unusual circumstances and humanitarian situation, an exception was made, and the foreigners were transferred to the Israeli side of the fence,” a military statement said.

But the spokeswoman denied media reports saying that Israeli troops had crossed into Egyptian territory to head off African migrants and deliver them to Egyptian forces.

“The IDF isn't inside Egypt, no way,” she said, referring to the Israel Defence Forces. “The IDF does not operate inside Egypt.”

The Egyptian army was massing troops and making arrests on Friday in a campaign to quell increasingly deadly Islamist militants in the Sinai Peninsula, close to the borders with Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Egyptian state television reported that military helicopters and soldiers killed 20 militants on Wednesday in the first such operation in the Sinai in decades.

The operation was launched after gunmen on Sunday killed 16 Egyptian guards near the border and tried to storm southern Israel.

They raided a border guard base under the cover of mortar fire and commandeered a military vehicle into the Jewish state before they were halted by an Israeli helicopter strike.

Israel handed over to Egypt six “completely charred” bodies that were in the armoured personnel carrier driven into the country before being destroyed, an Egyptian medical official said.

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