Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has taken the rare decision to open the Rafah border crossing with Gaza for the entire holy month of Ramadan after Israel killed some 60 Palestinian protesters in the enclave this week.
The decision was made “to alleviate the suffering” of residents in the Palestinian territory, Sisi said on Facebook late Thursday.
The Rafah crossing is the Gaza Strip’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. Usually Palestinians are able to cross for a few dozen days a year. Previous openings of the crossing have been cut short by violence in the Sinai peninsula, or with authorities giving other reasons.
Sisi’s announcement came after some 60 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire on Gaza’s frontier on Monday, with Egypt’s foreign ministry describing the victims as “martyrs.”
At least 114 Gazans have been killed in border protests and clashes since March 30, prior to the controversial opening Monday of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem after Washington recognised the disputed city as capital of Israel.
The UN’s human rights chief on Friday slammed Israel’s response to protests along the Gaza border fence as “wholly disproportionate.”
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein warned that “killing resulting from the unlawful use of force by an occupying power may also constitute wilful killings, a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”
Egypt has relations with both Israel and Gaza’s rulers Hamas, giving Cairo an instrumental role in mediating between the two sides and alleviating pressure on the territory’s two million residents.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniya on Sunday briefly visited Egypt, where he met with the director of the country’s intelligence services, Abbas Kamel.
The crossing at Rafah is open until the end of Ramadan in mid-June for sick and elderly Palestinians, as well as students enrolled in foreign universities or those who have family in Egypt, border officials said.
For more than a decade, Israel has imposed a crippling blockade on Gaza, arguing it is necessary to isolate Hamas, with which it has fought three wars since 2008. But critics say that amounts to collective punishment of the enclave’s residents, 47 percent of whom suffer from food insecurity, according to the United Nations.
Turkey was preparing Friday to host an emergency summit of the world’s main pan-Islamic body, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, in Istanbul.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has clashed with Israeli leaders over the Gaza killings, has vowed the extraordinary meeting will 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 checked with metal detectors and had their bags searched by Israeli forces, while at least two men in wheelchairs were pushed through the checkpoint by border agents.