Egypt opened the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip on Thursday to allow injured Palestinians to seek treatment at Egyptian hospitals amid Israel's escalating military offensive against the coastal enclave, officials told the Egyptian state news agency.
The crossing has often been closed for security reasons since former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was ousted last summer. Egyptian officials say militant groups infiltrate the Sinai Peninsula through the crossing as well as using tunnels that link Gaza with Egypt.
Rafah is Gaza's only border crossing that is not controlled by Israel.
MENA, the state news agency, quoted North Sinai's Gov. Sayed Abdel Fattah Harhour as saying that hospitals in his area were on alert to receive injured Palestinians. Most will be treated in the coastal town of Arish, though critical cases may be transferred to other cities, including Cairo.
The opening comes as some Egyptians are calling on newly elected President Abdel Fattah Sisi to take some action to stop what many here see as Israeli aggression against Palestinians. Israeli forces launched this week's airstrikes in response to repeated rocket attacks on Israel by militants based in Gaza and the killing of three Israeli teenagers last month in the West Bank.
Officials in Gaza have said that at least 78 people have been killed and hundreds injured in the coastal strip since Israel initiated "Operation Protective Edge" on Tuesday.
Khaled Meshaal, leader of the Hamas movement, which rules Gaza, joined the calls for action from Cairo. He told Al Jazeera news network that he is seeking help from all Arab nations and most importantly Egypt.
"We are waiting for Egypt's great army," he said, despite his movement's animosity toward Egypt since the dismissal of Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood was allied with Hamas.
Egyptian diplomats called for talks even as they condemned the fighting in Gaza.
"What is happening in Gaza is disgusting; Israel has to stop its assault on Gaza," Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty was quoted as saying by MENA on Thursday.
"However," he added, "I call for wisdom from both sides, and Israel has to start intensive talks with the Palestinian government."
In late 2012, Egypt was instrumental in negotiating the end of another outbreak of fighting between Israel and Hamas.
Hassan is a special correspondent.