Egypt has opened its border with the Gaza Strip for the first time in two months.
The Rafah Border Crossing opened Monday for four days, allowing Palestinians to travel in both directions. Crossing director Khaled al-Shaer says some 20,000 people have applied to exit the coastal strip. Gazans seeking medical care and students are among those expected to cross.
Rafah is Gaza’s only gateway to the outside world not under Israeli control. Egypt has kept it mostly closed since the militant Hamas group seized control of the area in 2007. The closure worsened after Egypt’s military ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood member, in 2013. Hamas is an offshoot of the Brotherhood.
The crossing has been opened for a total of just 15 days this year.
Egypt is opening the crossing as Middle Eastern media outlets reported over the past week that Israel and Hamas are close to signing a long-term ceasefire agreement.
While Palestinian and Turkish media outlets described the ceasefire as a done deal and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Monday that Israeli officials recently met Hamas representatives in an African country he did not name, Israel on Monday denied the reports, saying it had had no contacts with the terror group — “not directly, not through another country and not through intermediaries.”
Egypt has claimed that Hamas in Gaza is helping Sinai militants, both by treating casualties from the battles in Sinai against the Egyptian army and in arms. Hamas is also affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement that has been outlawed in Egypt.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.