Hundreds of migrants rush border at Spain's Ceuta

Madrid (AFP) - More than 350 migrants stormed the border between Morocco and Spain's Ceuta on Monday, officials said, days after one of the largest rush of arrivals over the frontier in more than a decade.

The young migrants forced their way through the high border fence into the Spanish North African territory, ecstatic to have finally crossed into a European Union state.

Some kissed the ground and shouted "Thank you lord" and "Viva Espana", although several had bloodied hands and feet as well as torn clothes after making it through the barrier.

Ceuta and Melilla, also a Spanish territory in North Africa, have the EU's only land borders with Africa.

As a result, they are entry points for migrants who either climb the high double border fences, swim along the coast or hide in vehicles.

"356 managed to get in out of a total of around 700" who attempted entry, a spokesman for the local authority said. "They entered after breaking access gates with shears and hammers."

Their arrival came just days after nearly 500 migrants crossed into Ceuta on Friday, one of the biggest breaches since the border barrier was reinforced in 2005.

The Spanish territory is now ringed by a double wire fence eight kilometres (five miles) long. The six-metre high fence also has rolls of barbed wire.

Isabel Brasero, spokeswoman for the Red Cross in Ceuta, said no one was seriously injured on Monday, as has been the case in the past.

"We took 11 people to hospital, eight needed stitches and three needed an X-ray," she said.

- EU-Rabat dispute -

The border rush also comes amid a dispute between Morocco and the EU over the interpretation of a free trade farm and fishing deal.

Ties between Morocco and Brussels suffered a blow last year after an EU tribunal annulled the deal on the grounds it illegally applied to the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony controlled by Rabat.

The Algeria-backed Polisario Front has long been fighting for independence for the region and had challenged the agreement.

But then in December, the EU's top court overturned this decision, paving the way for the trade agreement to be reinstated.

Earlier this month, Rabat warned Brussels that failure to implement the deal would have severe consequences and could spur illegal migration as it would affect "thousands of jobs" in Morocco and in Europe.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini has pushed hard for trade deals with countries such as Morocco to help them develop their economies, which could curb the number of migrants leaving for Europe.

The last such massive attempt to cross into Ceuta took place on New Year's Day when more than 1,000 migrants tried to jump the double fence in a violent assault that saw one police officer lose an eye.