Egypt on Thursday opened its largely sealed border with the blockaded Gaza Strip for three days on the eve of more planned protests against Israel, Palestinian authorities said.
In the fourth such opening this year, the Rafah crossing to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula will be open until Saturday for humanitarian cases, the interior ministry in Gaza said.
An AFP photographer saw a first busload of 70 people, including women and children, crossing on Thursday morning.
The opening comes ahead of a third consecutive Friday of planned mass protests along the Gaza-Israel border.
Israeli media reports have said Egypt had been negotiating with Hamas, the terror group which rules Gaza, to seek to calm the crisis.
Thirty-two Palestinians have been killed and thousands wounded by Israeli forces since March 30, according to the Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza, as thousands have approached the border fence and clashes have erupted.
Israel says its forces have opened fire to stop attempts to harm soldiers, damage the fence, infiltrate Israel and attempt to carry out attacks. Palestinians say protesters are being shot while posing no threat to soldiers.
The Rafah crossing is the only exit for Gaza residents except into Israel, but Egypt has largely sealed it in recent years, citing security threats.
Friday will mark the third week in a row of mass Palestinian protests dubbed the “March of Return.” Hamas leaders have told demonstrators the ultimate goal is to erase the border and liberate Palestine.
The protests, near the border with Israel, drew some 30,000 Palestinians on the first Friday, and around 20,000 on the second.
While some of the protesters appeared peaceful, groups of rioters tried to approach the fence, despite Israeli warnings not to do so, to throw firebombs and rocks at Israeli forces on the other side, to try to breach the fence or to plant explosives along it. Protesters burned large numbers of tires last Friday to create a smokescreen blocking Israeli troops’ ability to see.
The Palestinians have always demanded, along with sovereignty in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Old City, a “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees who left or were forced out of Israel when it was established. The Palestinians demand this right not only for those of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are still alive — a figure estimated in the low tens of thousands — but also for their descendants, who number in the millions.
No Israeli government would ever be likely to accept this demand, since it would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state. Israel’s position is that Palestinian refugees and their descendants would become citizens of a Palestinian state at the culmination of the peace process, just as Jews who fled or were forced out of Middle Eastern countries by hostile governments became citizens of Israel.
Egyptian authorities have had a strained relationship with Hamas, which began as an offshoot of Egypt’s banned Muslim Brotherhood.
In October, Egypt brokered a reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah, the party of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, that was supposed to see the terror group give up power in Gaza.
But the deal has collapsed, with the two Palestinian groups trading blame.