Four Palestinians Die at Rafah Border Awaiting Entry Into Gaza

Red Cross: 3,000 stranded on Egypt side of crossing; Israel: PA rejects offer to cross via Kerem Shalom.

Four Palestinians have died in recent days awaiting entry into the Gaza Strip on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing, which has been closed for nearly two weeks since the kidnapping of Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit.

More than 3,000 Palestinians, including 578 deemed "urgent humanitarian cases," have been stranded for 16 days inside a make-shift terminal on the Egyptian side of the crossing, the Red Cross said Monday.

Two Palestinians died at the crossing on Tuesday - a 19-year-old woman and a 1.5-year-old infant.

The young woman, identified as Mona Ismail, was returning from an operation in a Cairo hospital. She died as a result of a severe deterioration in her medical condition as she waited at Rafah. The infant, identified as Hamze Abu Taleb, died of heat stroke.

Two other people also died over the past few days while waiting at the crossing. Hani Daoud, 70, suffered a heart attack after waiting nine days to return to Gaza after receiving medical treatment in Egypt. Muhammed Shuhab, 15, also died at the crossing after undergoing heart surgery in Cairo, an Egyptian official at the border said.

There is no proper terminal at the crossing where people can wait and there is no organized supply of food and drink, despite the heavy heat.

Because of a border dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, the Red Cross has proposed escorting them into Gaza by boat from el-Arish along the Egyptian coast, a Red Cross spokeswoman in Cairo said. But it has yet to receive a response from either side.

Israel, which launched a major military offensive in Gaza on June 28, three days after Shalit was abducted by militants, said it has offered to let the Palestinians pass through the nearby Kerem Shalom border crossing into Gaza. But Palestinian officials rejected the Israeli proposal, insisting that Rafah be reopened.

The Palestinian Authority fears that using Kerem Shalom as a main crossing will lead to a de facto annulment of the "crossing agreement," brokered with the assistance of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, that formalized the passage of Palestinians through the Rafah crossing.

"Why now move things to Kerem Shalom? If we move it to Kerem Shalom, we're worried they will close Rafah for good," said Palestinian chief negotiatiator, Saeb Erekat, a top aide to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinians technically control the Rafah crossing but its operations are overseen by European monitors and can be blocked by the Israelis. The others are controlled by Israel.

Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Israel has offered to let Palestinians in need of medical care to use of both Kerem Shalom and the Erez crossing.

"As far as Israel is concerned, the Israeli-controlled crossings remain open for humanitarian cases," Regev said.

Sayeh said the European Union and the Palestinian Authority had asked the Red Cross to escort the people through Rafah.

"The two parties, the Israelis and the Palestinians, did not have an agreement. So we could not conduct such an activity," Sayeh said.

She said the Red Cross has provided funds to the Egyptian Red Crescent, which is taking the lead in providing humanitarian supplies to those stranded at the terminal.