Doctors from Human Rights-Israel and al-Mizan Centre for Human Rights and Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, said in statement, sent to AFP, that those stranded include about 1000 people returning from medical treatment; pregnant women, the elderly and children.

Rights groups and Palestinian residents stranded on the Egyptian side of the border with the Gaza Strip, also filed a petition to the Israeli High Court on Wednesday to press for the lifting of security restrictions which would allow about 2500 Palestinians to return.

The petitioners said some Palestinians had been waiting for more than two weeks due to the almost complete sealing of the Israeli-controlled Rafah border since 10 July. The crossing has been opened for just two days in that period.

Palestinian Negotiation Minister Saib Uraiqat appealed to the international community to help resolve the crisis.

Israelis closely watch Rafah's
crossing point and refugee camp 

"We asked the US administration and the European Union to help put an end to this human rights violation... and secure the return of thousands of Palestinians stranded on Egypt's side of the border in Rafah to Gaza," he told AFP.

Palestinian security sources in Gaza said nearly 3000 Palestinians were stuck at the Rafah border crossing - the only point of passage between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli authorities said they closed the crossing for fear of Palestinian resistance attacks, but had offered alternatives.

"This has created a situation in which people returning from Egypt to Gaza, many after having undergone medical treatment, are unable to return home.

"They are also unable to return to Egypt because of monetary problems," the statement said.

"These people severely lack basic supplies such as medicines, food and water. The people are waiting in a small confined waiting area. From testimonies received by Al-Mizan Centre and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, the situation is dire."

Alternatives

The petitioners said even though the 2500 were stuck on Egypt's side of the border, Israel had an obligation to attend to their humanitarian needs since it had decided to close the border.

They also said the country's high court had stated in May 2004 the need for the army to protect civilians before it implements military action, after some of the same rights groups filed a petition during deadly Palestinian raids in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah.

"We asked the US administration and the European Union to help put an end to this human rights violation"

Saib Uraiqat, Palestinian Negotiations Minister



Israel has proposed opening an alternative crossing point 70 kilometres (43 miles) southeast of Rafah at Nissanit in southern Israel and evacuate the stranded Palestinians by bus, but says the Palestinian Authority has refused such a solution.

The petitioners also slammed the Israeli proposal, which they say will include the ferrying of people by buses, with only five vehicles a day.

"Being that over 2,500 people are stranded, this solution is not truly an option," it said, urging Israel to re-open the border or find viable alternatives.