The group, including women and children, were from war-torn Darfur and southern Sudan. They were seeking political asylum in Israel, Capt Mohammed Badr from the northern Sinai Peninsula police said.
People smugglers left the group near the frontier and fled just minutes before police arrived, Badr said. The Sudanese said they had paid thousands of dollars to be smuggled into Israel. About 200 people a year, mostly from Sudan, are smuggled from Egypt into Israel, according to the Israeli group Physicians for Human Rights.
Egyptian authorities have long accused Sinai inhabitants of smuggling weapons, drugs and people across the border into Israel and the Gaza Strip.
Many Sudanese find life difficult in Egypt, a country that struggles to provide jobs and social services for a growing refugee population. Egyptian riot police violently cleared a refugee encampment in central Cairo in 2005, killing nearly 30 people.