The High Court of Justice instructed the State Attorney's Office on Tuesday night that "everything Israel can do to save human life must be done today," following a petition submitted by "Doctors for Human Rights" and "Gisha" that Erez Crossing be opened immediately to allow sick and wounded Gazans into Israel. The High Court decided that a panel of three judges would rule on the matter Wednesday in an emergency hearing and demanded that until then, the State Attorney's Office respond to Tuesday's ruling in place of the IDF. Some 190 Palestinians holed up in a stench-filled concrete tunnel at the border crossing with northern Gaza , desperately trying to flee the Hamas-controlled Strip. Meanwhile, hoping to prevent a humanitarian crisis and to end the standoff at the Erez Crossing, defense officials revealed that Israel had asked Egypt to evacuate some 100 Palestinian women and children holed up at the border terminal. The officials said Israel expected Egypt to play a role in solving the crisis at Erez, where a few hundred Gazans - mostly affiliated with Fatah - have taken refuge from Hamas. Israel has refused to allow them passage to the West Bank, saying that some of them are wanted terrorists, including, for example, one who was involved in 2002's standoff with the IDF at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
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For the first time since Hamas's takeover of the Gaza Strip, the IDF allowed Magen David Adom ambulances to evacuate five Palestinians to Israeli hospitals on Tuesday, including two who were wounded in Monday's Hamas shooting attack at the crossing.
IDF officers said three Palestinians who had been seriously wounded in violent clashes in Gaza over the last few weeks were located by the Red Cross in Gaza hospitals and were taken by ambulances to Erez, where they were evacuated to Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon.
In addition to those hurt in the recent Palestinian factional fighting, the IDF decided to evacuate those seriously wounded in Monday's flare-up at Erez. Initially, 12 Palestinians were approved for entry into Israel, but after examinations by an Israeli medical team, only two were found to be in critical condition, warranting immediate transfer to Israeli hospitals.
Senior defense officials said the IDF would continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians on a "case-by-case basis" but did not plan to completely open the Erez Crossing and allow all of those holed up inside to cross into Israel.
In addition to sending the women and children from the crossing to Egypt, Israel is considering allowing a group of Fatah operatives who have already fled to Egypt to enter the West Bank via Jordan.
Also Tuesday, the IDF allowed 11 trucks of food and two trucks with medical supplies from the United Nations World Food Program to enter Gaza via the Kerem Shalom Crossing. The Karni Crossing, the main conduit for cargo entering the Strip, has been closed since forces loyal to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas fled their posts last week.
It was the first time goods have been shipped from Israel into Gaza since Hamas seized control. Col. Nir Press, commander of the IDF Coordination and Liaison Administration, supervised the trucks' entry. Defense officials said that barring any "interference" from Hamas, supplies would continue to flow into Gaza from Israel in the coming days.
Meanwhile Tuesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak took up the position at the ministry. During a brief ceremony, Barak reviewed an honor guard before accompanying his predecessor, MK Amir Peretz, to a car that took him out of the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv.
Barak held a round of meetings with senior ministry officials as well as with the IDF General Staff. Defense officials said Barak had yet to convene a discussion on the Erez Crossing crisis but would probably do so in the coming days. Most of his meeting were about highly-classified issues that required his immediate attention.
The Red Cross has identified about 50 other patients who may have to be evacuated in the near future. According to hospital and MDA figures, some 130 people were killed and 630 were wounded in last week's Hamas-Fatah clashes in Gaza. Since the fighting died down, five to 10 people have come out of hiding and entered hospitals each day.
Eileen Daly, the ICRC's health coordinator for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, said, "In addition to the stress imposed by the large number of patients over recent days and the long working hours, Gaza hospital staff are becoming increasingly frustrated about medical equipment breaking down.
Due to the suspension of funds to the Palestinian Authority, it has often not been possible to maintain or replace medical equipment during the past year. We will bring in surgical gowns and drapes. Many washing machines and some sterilization equipment have broken down. We have even provided household washing machines as a short-term replacement for broken-down industrial machines in some hospitals."
The ICRC has been providing medical supplies to hospitals and other heath care facilities in Gaza. Access to the Strip remains restricted at all entry points from Israel, but an ICRC vehicle carrying anesthesia, drugs and painkillers crossed into Gaza on Tuesday. The ICRC is also sending 250 bottles of halothane, which is used to produce anesthetic gas.
Over the last few days, the organization has provided Gaza hospitals with essential drugs and equipment, including antibiotics, anesthetics, suture material, chest drains and surgical drugs. The ICRC is organizing the delivery of additional surgical sets, including specialized instruments and badly needed material such as external fixators. The ICRC has also been providing drinking water and food parcels to two hospitals.