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JERUSALEM (AP) — Pro-Palestinian activists sent another boat to challenge Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday and Egypt declared it was temporarily opening a crossing into the Palestinian territory after a raid on an aid flotilla that ended with Israeli soldiers killing nine activists.
The raid provoked ferocious international condemnation of Israel, raised questions at home, and appeared likely to increase pressure to end the blockade that has deepened the poverty of the 1.5 million Palestinians in the strip.
Turkey, which unofficially supported the flotilla, has led the criticism, calling the Israeli raid a "bloody massacre" and demanding that Washington condemn the raid. The White House has reacted cautiously, calling for disclosure of all the facts.
Amid the increasing tensions, the Israeli military said it carried out an airstrike in Gaza on Tuesday, and an Islamic militant group said three of its members were killed after firing rockets into southern Israel. Israeli authorities say the rockets landed in open areas and caused no injuries.
Two militants infiltrating into Israel from Gaza were killed in a separate incident Tuesday, the military said.
In other violence, Israeli hospital officials said an American woman lost her eye during a demonstration Monday in Jerusalem against the naval raid. Emily Henochowicz of Maryland was in intensive care after undergoing surgery, said hospital spokeswoman Yael Bossem-Levy. Witnesses said Henochowicz, 21, was hit by a tear gas canister in the face while Palestinian youths were throwing rocks, although she was standing at a distance.
The pro-Palestinian flotilla had been headed to Gaza with tens of thousands of tons of aid that Israel bans from Gaza. After days of warnings, Israel intercepted the flotilla under the cover of darkness early Monday, setting off a violent melee that left nine activists dead and dozens of people, including seven soldiers, wounded. Most of the dead were believed to be Turks.
Israel said 679 people were arrested, and about 50 of those had left the country voluntarily. Hundreds who refused to cooperate remained jailed and subject to deportation.
Israel says the Gaza blockade is needed to prevent the Iranian-backed Hamas, which has fired thousands of rockets into the Jewish state, from building up its arsenal. It also wants to pressure Hamas to free an Israeli soldier it has held for four years.
Critics say the blockade has failed to weaken Hamas but further strapped an already impoverished economy. It also has prevented Gaza from rebuilding after a devastating Israeli military offensive early last year.
Egypt, which has enforced the blockade with Israel since Hamas militants seized control of Gaza in 2007, said it was opening the border for several days to allow aid into the area.
The governor of Egyptian's northern Sinai district, Murad Muwafi, said it was a humanitarian gesture meant to "alleviate the suffering of our Palestinian brothers after the Israeli attack."
Several thousand Gazans made a furious rush to the Egyptian border, hoping to take advantage of a rare chance to escape the blockaded territory.
Cars with suitcases piled on their roofs streamed to the border, while many others lugged overstuffed bags on foot. Dozens of Hamas police with automatic weapons are patrolling the area to maintain order.
"We are working to help residents take advantage of this opportunity," said Hamas Interior Ministry spokesman Ihab Ghussein. "We hope it will be open all the time, not just as a response to yesterday's events."
Greta Berlin said the Free Gaza Movement, which organized the flotilla, would not be deterred and that another cargo boat was off the coast of Italy en route to Gaza. A second boat carrying about three dozen passengers is expected to join it, Berlin said. She said the two boats would arrive in the region late this week or early next week.
"This initiative is not going to stop," she said from the group's base in Cyprus. "We think eventually Israel will get some kind of common sense. They're going to have to stop the blockade of Gaza, and one of the ways to do this is for us to continue to send the boats."
The Israeli military refused to say how it would respond to the arrival of new Gaza-bound ships. But Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said, "there is no change in policy" and urged activists to send the aid into Gaza through current, authorized means.
"We have no intention to use violence and there is no need for this to end violently," Palmor said. "If they want the aid to get to Gaza, they can send through the regular peaceful channels. I think they understand that seeking confrontation will not do them any good."
Protests erupted in a number of Muslim countries including Turkey, which unofficially supported the flotilla, Indonesia and Malaysia, where a Palestinian man slashed himself outside the U.S. Embassy.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an outspoken critic of Israel, told lawmakers Tuesday that the Israeli raid was an attack "on international law, the conscience of humanity and world peace."
"This bloody massacre by Israel on ships that were taking humanitarian aid to Gaza deserves every kind of curse," he said, demanding that Israel immediately halt its "inhumane" blockade of Gaza.
Turkey's Foreign Ministry said four Turkish citizens were confirmed slain by Israeli commandos and another five were also believed to be Turks. Israeli authorities were still trying to confirm their nationalities.
Thousands of pro-Islamic and nationalist Turks have poured into the streets in Istanbul and Ankara since the report of the Israeli raid. Protesters with Palestinian and Turkish flags shouted "Down with Israel!" outside Israeli diplomatic missions.