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the Associated Press

Doctors Stuck at Bottleneck on Egypt-Gaza Border

Rebecca Santana

Egyptian paramedics evacuate an injured Palestinian man toward an Egyptian ambulance at the Egyptian border crossing terminal of Rafah, Egypt Monday, Jan. 5, 2008. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

RAFAH - Greek anesthesiologist Dimitrios Mognie and another doctor arrived at this border crossing loaded with medical supplies to help Gazans wounded in the Israeli offensive. Instead, they have waited at the border for days.

On Tuesday, a representative from a Norwegian medical aid organization was allowed to enter the Gaza Strip from Rafah. But most doctors have been denied entry by Egyptian authorities and spend their days drinking tea and coffee at a small, dusty cafe near the crossing's metal gates.

"This is a shame," said Mognie, who used his vacation to travel from Greece to try to help in Gaza. He thought entering through Egypt, which has a narrow border with the Hamas-ruled strip, was his best bet.

"That in 2009 they have people in need of help from a doctor and we can go to help and they won't let us. This is crazy," said Mognie, who has worked in conflict zones from Iraq to Somalia.

Gaza's few hospitals have been swamped by more than 2,400 wounded in Israel's 11-day campaign to stop Hamas militants from launching rockets into Israel. Almost 600 Palestinians have been killed. Nearly half of the dead are civilians, according to U.N. and Palestinian officials.

Mognie and his colleague, both from the Greek organization Doctors for Peace, were the last in their group of six Greek doctors to remain at the Rafah border after arriving last Friday with medical supplies. The others returned home after being continually rebuffed by the Egyptian border guards.

Three Norwegian medical personnel, including the one who crossed on Tuesday, have been allowed into Gaza from Egypt.

Israel and Egypt first closed their borders with Gaza after Hamas took control of the area in June 2007. The Egyptian closure has been seen by some as abetting Israel's siege of the crowded strip, home to 1.4 million people.

Since Israel's offensive, Egypt has taken in a trickle of wounded Palestinians through the crossing at Rafah. The Egyptian government, the main mediator between Israel and Hamas, has said it would only open Rafah if moderate Palestinian forces of President Mahmoud Abbas are in charge of the crossing.

There have been increasing calls for Egypt to ease the border bottleneck - where aid convoys first have to unload cargo from Egyptian trucks before it is loaded onto Palestinian ones and taken into the strip.

Palestinian ambulances are not allowed beyond the Egyptian border crossing. Patients are taken out of the often poorly equipped Palestinian ambulances and transferred on gurneys to Egyptian ones.

At least 20 wounded Palestinians were brought to Egypt on Tuesday, bringing the total transferred to 143 since the start of the offensive, said Mohammed Arafat, a Palestinian Authority representative in Rafah.

The day before, Palestinian doctor Abed el-Qader Lubbad arrived at the border in one of the ambulances transporting patients from Gaza. Of the eight patients he ferried, one who was seriously wounded died on the way, said Lubbad, who works in the intensive care unit at Shifa Hospital in Gaza.

Obstetrician Jemilah Mahmood, the president of Mercy Malaysia, said her group worked with the Egyptian Red Crescent to transfer about $100,000 worth of medical supplies to Gaza on Monday and planned to send another shipment next week.

But while supplies can get through, Mahmood said neither she nor her colleagues were allowed to cross.

"Can you imagine how many women are hurt and how few women doctors there are?" she said. "All of us are sitting at the border."

Associated Press writer Ashraf Sweilam contributed to this report.

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