Israel has said it will take 100 orphaned children fleeing the civil war in Syria, in the first sign that the country’s stance of refugees from war-torn Arab neighbours may be easing.

In an announcement, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said he had ordered the Population and Immigration Authority “to begin contacts with relevant agencies on allowing the absorption of children who have survived the fighting in Syria”.

While plans are at an early stage, the ministry said Israel “will be able to absorb approximately 100 orphaned children thus facilitating their rehabilitation”.

Deri added: “The situation in Syria is very harsh. Civilians have been slaughtered for years only a few dozen kilometres from Israel. I have decided to order professionals in my ministry to work toward absorbing children on humanitarian grounds in order to render assistance and rescue 100 of them from the horrors and afford them good and normal lives in Israel.”

Most of Israel’s asylum-seekers in recent years have come from Africa, and refugee agencies have described the country as “a reluctant host,” citing 60-year old laws designed to prevent Palestinian refugees returning from Arab lands.

Israeli Opposition leader Isaac Herzog has previously criticised the Netanyahu government’s unwillingness to assist with the massive flow of refugees fleeing war in Syria and Iraq, saying: “Jews cannot be indifferent.”