Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has made a rare decision to open the Rafah crossing with Gaza for a month, allowing Palestinians to cross during the holy period of Ramadan.
The decision to keep the crossing open was taken “to alleviate the suffering” of residents in the Palestinian enclave, Sisi said on Facebook late Thursday.
The Rafah crossing is Gaza‘s only gateway to the outside world not controlled by Israel, but Egypt has largely sealed it in recent years, citing security threats.
The last extended opening lasted three weeks in 2013, while usually Palestinians are able to cross for a few dozen days a year.
Previous openings of Rafah have been cut short by violence in the Sinai peninsula or with authorities giving other reasons.
Sisi‘s announcement comes after some 60 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire on Gaza‘s frontier earlier this week, with the victims described by Egypt‘s foreign ministry as “martyrs”.
A total of 114 Gazans have been killed in border protests and clashes since March 30, in the run-up to the controversial opening Monday of the US embassy in Jerusalem.
Egypt has relations with both Israel and Gaza rulers Hamas, giving Cairo an instrumental role in easing tensions between the two sides and alleviating the pressure on the territory‘s two million residents.
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Hamas leader Ismail Haniya paid a brief visit on Sunday to Egypt, where he met with the director of the country‘s intelligence services Abbas Kamel.
For more than a decade Israel has imposed a crippling blockage on Gaza which it says is necessary to isolate Hamas, with which it has fought three wars since 2008.
But critics argue it amounts to collective punishment of the enclave‘s residents, with 47 percent suffering from food insecurity according to United Nations figures.
An emergency summit of the world‘s main pan-Islamic body, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, will be held in Istanbul on Friday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed the extraordinary meeting should send a “strong message to the world” over Israel‘s treatment of the Palestinians.
At an Israeli checkpoint early Friday, Palestinians were crossing from the West Bank town of Bethlehem to the first weekly prayers of Ramadan at Jerusalem‘s Al-Aqsa mosque compound.
Palestinians were seen being searched with metal detectors and having their bags checked by Israeli authorities, while at least two men in wheelchairs were pushed through the checkpoint by border agents.