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143 Filipinos want to return home from Israel

A view shows houses and buildings destroyed by Israeli strikes in Gaza City, Oct. 10, 2023. — REUTERS

AT LEAST 143 Filipinos in Israel want to come home amid the worsening war the Hamas militant group, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Wednesday.

About 120 Filipinos have been repatriated.

“The numbers vary by day, and this is according to the numbers of our Migrant Workers office there,” Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Jose Eduardo A. de Vega told CNN Philippines. “There will be another batch coming this week, and they will be repatriated continuously.”

Mr. De Vega said two Filipinos were still missing in Israel, which is still under Alert Level 2.

The Philippine envoy said they likely had been kidnapped by the Palestinian Islamists.

Israel launched extensive airstrikes in Gaza after Hamas militants backed by a barrage of rockets stormed from the blockaded Gaza Strip into nearby Israeli towns, killing 1,400 people, mostly civilians, in a surprise attack on Oct. 7.

Israel has also enforced a blockade and deployed tens of thousands of its troops for a ground assault on the Palestinian enclave.

Mr. De Vega said 126 of the 136 Filipinos in Gaza, which is under Alert Level 4 for forced repatriation, have been marked safe. DFA lost communication with them last week, and 10 Filipinos in Gaza were still unreachable, he added.

“On Sunday morning (Oct. 29), little by little, we’ve been able to contact them again but only limited,” he said.

There are 57 Filipinos at the Rafah Border Crossing looking to cross into Egypt, he said, citing a decrease from the 78 reported a week earlier. He said some Filipinos stopped waiting by the border and have gone to southern parts of Gaza.

“The word is the Egyptians are getting ready to accept wounded or injured Palestinians, and we trust that foreign nationals are to follow,” Mr. De Vega said. “Hopefully we will start getting our countrymen to cross by the weekend, but it’s up to Egypt.”

The Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt has opened for the first time since the Israel-Hamas war erupted, Al Jazeera reported. As many as 500 foreign nationals and a number of injured Palestinians needing medical treatment in Egypt would be allowed to leave the enclave, it said.

Two Filipino doctors working with Doctors Without Borders were among the foreigners who had been allowed to leave Gaza and cross to Egypt, Mr. De Vega said in a WhatsApp message.

More than 7,000 people have died in Gaza and the death toll continues to rise amid Israeli airstrikes, according to Palestinian authorities.

A ground invasion of Gaza has become more imminent after the Israeli military issued an “urgent plea” at the weekend for Palestinians to head south immediately as it vowed to neutralize Hamas militants.

The Philippines was one of 45 countries that abstained from a United Nations (UN) resolution passed last week calling fora sustained and immediate “humanitarian truce” in Gaza. The United States and Israel voted no to the resolution, which was drafted by a group of 22 Arab countries.

Mr. De Vega said the Philippines wanted the UN resolution to paint a more accurate picture of the Oct. 7 attack and armed conflict.

“We wanted something which would be more balanced and reflective of the actual situation in the area,” he said.

“Nevertheless, we did read an after-vote statement wherein we said we support the elements of the resolution like humanitarian assistance and following international humanitarian law.”

The UN resolution is nonbinding, but serves as a barometer of global opinion as fighting between Israel and Hamas nears the end of its third week.

The UN General Assembly voted after the UN Security Council failed to act over two weeks, with the US and Russia using their veto powers to block proposals supported by the other.

The adopted resolution calls for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities” and “firmly rejects any attempts at the forced transfer of the Palestinian civilian population.” — John Victor D. Ordoñez

Neil Banzuelo

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