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OPT: Israel opens Gaza border for foreigners and the sick

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JERUSALEM, Jun 20, 2007 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Israel on Wednesday opened its border with the Gaza Strip for foreign citizens in the coastal area and Palestinians in need of medical treatment.

Bernard Barregg, spokesman of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Jerusalem, told Xinhua that the ICRC is currently working with Magen David Adom (MDA), which provides pro- hospital emergency medical services and Red Cross in Israel, to transfer Palestinian patient in Gaza hospitals to Israel.

Four Palestinians needing medical treatment were evacuated to Israeli hospitals on Wednesday, and three more are also expected to be transferred later in the day.

Barregg said that most of the cases they are dealing with are people injured during last week's intensive infighting between the Palestinian factions of Fatah and Hamas, and those who are suffering from serious illness too complicated for Gaza hospitals to treat.

According to Barregg, ICRC personnel in Gaza will examine the patients in hospitals and decide whether they should be transferred, and the MDA will arrange transportation from the Erez border crossing to Israeli hospitals.

Barregg said that there are as many as 50 Palestinians in hospitals in Gaza are waiting for evacuation, and the transfer is going to continue in the upcoming days.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) told Xinhua that the Erez crossing will keep open as long as there are Palestinians in need of help.

She said that the terminal is also open for foreign journalists, diplomats and citizens, adding that a number of Russian and Ukrainian citizens have passed through Erez.

Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported on its website that among those who left Gaza on Wednesday were 140 stranded Russian citizens, whom Russia had been trying for several days to evacuate.

Most of them are women married to Palestinians and their children, said the reports.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Wednesday ordered the IDF to begin evacuating the Palestinians in need of urgent medical care from Gaza via Erez Crossing, which has been shut down by Israel since Hamas' violent takeover of the strip.

Some 100 to 200 Palestinians have been waiting at Erez Crossing for the chance to flee the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip in the past few days, but only a small number of them were granted permission by Israel to pass.