The Israeli army will allow an unspecified number of Palestinians fleeing the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to enter Israel, the Defence Ministry said Wednesday.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who took overthe position ofLabour leader on Tuesday,instructed officials to let in "humanitarian cases," an apparent reference to people in need of medical treatment.

An estimated 200 Palestinians have been stranded for days in a 270-metre tunnel between two high walls 10 metres apart at the Erez crossing from Gaza into Israel. Their only way out hinges on gaining permission to go through Israeli territory for sanctuary in the West Bank.

Five Palestinians who were wounded in last week's fighting or in a subsequent attack on the tunnel by Hamas-allied fighters have already been admitted into Israel for medical treatment.

The Israeli government also said that buses would be made availableto take foreigners out of Gaza if they contact their embassy and co-ordinate the trip.

Canadianstrying to leaveGaza

CBC News contacted the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv and confirmed there are roughly 120 Canadians registered inthe regionand some have requested help to get out, but it is not yet known how manyCanadians are en route to Israel.

Meanwhile, Israeli aircraft attacked Palestinian rocket launchers in northern Gaza on Wednesday, in the first Israeli airstrike since Hamas militants seized control of the coastal strip last week, the army said.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Aircraft attacked two rocket launchers after one rocket hit near the Israeli town of Sderot, the army said.

Israeli troops also killed four Palestinian militants inseparate battles in southern Gaza.

Court challenge

Israel has been reluctant to admit the Gazans at Erez, fearing that their admittance could destabilize the quieter West Bank and lead to a largerflood of refugees at the border crossing.

But shortly afterBarak's order was given, a 17-year-old boy with leukemia was on his way through the passage, Israelimilitary liaison official Shadi Yassin said.

There is little sanitation in the tunneland humanitarian groups have warned that some of the would-be refugees are in urgent need ofmedical care. Many havebeen there for as longassix days.

The stranded Fatah supporters have said they fear death or persecution if they return.

Hamas attack at crossing kills 1

On Monday, Hamas gunmen targeted the narrow crossing by hiding themselves among the fleeing civilians and hurling grenades at Palestinians as well as Israeli soldiers. The attack killed one Palestinian and injured 15 others.

Barak'sdecision came as Israel's Supreme Court was tohear a petition Wednesday from Israeli activist group Physicians for Human Rights seeking to force authorities to offer medical treatment to Palestinians caught atthe crossing.

Israel is allowing food into the territory, whichhas slightly eased concerns overa growinghumanitarian crisis.

Israel previouslyallowed about 50 senior Fatah officials and their families to cross into the West Bank from Gaza on the weekend, citing threats to their safety. Some 200 other Fatah officials are in Egypt, trying to get to the West Bank via Jordan, Fatah officials said.

With files from the Associated Press