Hamas bars Pinoys from leaving Gaza - Israel
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - Nearly 100 Filipinos trying to leave conflict-torn Gaza are being prevented from leaving the area, the Israeli Embassy in Manila said Monday, November 19.
"Right now there are 120 Filipinos in Gaza and 90 of them have accepted the terms to leave for Israel, then from Israel to Jordan, but right now they are blocked from leaving Gaza not by us but unfortunately by the Hamas group," Yaniv Revach, Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy, said in a statement.
To extricate the Filipinos, the Philippine government should use a third party negotiator to talk to Hamas, Revach said, since Israel "won't be able to negotiate" with the militant group.
"As soon as people get out of Gaza, they will be safer in Israel. There won't be any problem anymore," he said.
President Benigno Aquino III has ordered the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to "ensure safety of Filipinos in Gaza." The DFA will be deploying teams from Cairo and Tel Aviv to the besieged city on Monday, said Foreign Affairs spokesperson Raul Hernandez.
Rapid response teams
One team was heading to Egypt and another to Israel later Monday to help the countries' Philippine embassies design an exit strategy for Filipinos there, foreign department spokesman Raul Hernandez said.
"We wanted to be proactive and not be caught flatfooted when the time comes for moving them out and taking them out of harm's way," Hernandez told reporters, without specifying how many officials were going from Manila.
Many Filipinos in Gaza are married to Palestinians and may be reluctant to leave, he said.
However, the government is still readying "contingency plans" to evacuate them, either via the border with Egypt or through Jordan, Hernandez added.
As of Sunday, no Filipino has been reported among the casualties of the continued air strikes in the Palestinian territory.
"So far, sa awa naman po ng Diyos, wala pa po kaming nakukuhang report na meron pong nasaktan na Pinoy o kaya ay sumakabilang buhay dahil doon sa nangyayari doon ngayon," Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said Sunday, November 18.
Hernandez said Friday the government is ready to evacuate the Filipinos, who are in "relatively safe" conditions.
On the other side of the border, a total of 41,000 Filipinos are in Israel, mostly in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem working as caregivers.
"Our main concern are the people who live in the South, in Tel Aviv, and in other areas. Thank god we have an iron dome, but 300 rockets will explode in the sky before hitting the ground," Revach added.
On Saturday, November 17, Migrante Middle East urged the government to start evacuting Filipinos in the territory, as violence escalated in the area.
Death toll now 80
Three people were killed early Monday morning in new Israeli air strikes on Gaza, pushing the death toll in six days of violence to 80 Palestinians, health officials said.
"The toll of martyrs has risen to 80 with the deaths of Nisma Abu Zorr, 23, Mohammed Abu Zorr, 5, and Ahid al-Qatati 35, in an air strike on the Azzam home in east Gaza City," health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra told AFP.
The strike in the Zeitun neighborhood came after a night that saw Israeli war planes level a Gaza City police station as navy ships kept up sustained fire at the Gaza shore, AFP correspondents said.
The deaths came after multiple raids on Sunday that killed 31, in the bloodiest day of Israel's bombing campaign, medics said.
The number of injuries rose over 700, officials said.
At least 10 children, five of them babies and toddlers, and six women were among those killed on Sunday, in attacks that came even as diplomatic efforts intensified to broker an end to the bloodshed which began on Wednesday.
The violence has also cost the lives of three Israelis and injured more than 50, according to medical sources.
By far the deadliest strike was in northern Gaza City where a missile leveled a three-story building, killing nine members of the Al-Dallu family -- five of them children -- and two other people, medics said.
The body of another woman from the same family was also pulled from the rubble but her identity was not immediately clear.
The Israeli army had no immediate comment on the strike, only saying the air force had hit "a few targets in northern Gaza City".
Diplomatic efforts to broker a truce between the two sides intensified, and with Egypt at the center of efforts to broker a ceasefire, Palestinian officials said it was possible a deal would be reached "today or tomorrow".
With Israel warning it could further escalate its operations in Gaza, US President Barack Obama on Sunday said it was "preferable" for the Gaza crisis to be resolved without a "ramping up" of Israeli military activity.
In Cairo, senior Hamas officials said Egyptian-mediated talks with Israel to end the bloodshed were "positive" but now focused on the possible stumbling block of guaranteeing the terms of a truce.
An outcome acceptable to Hamas would involve assurances about the United States, Israel's main backer, being the "guaranteeing party," one official said on condition of anonymity.
Security officials in Cairo said an Israeli envoy had also arrived in the Egyptian capital on Sunday for the talks.
Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi, meanwhile, met with both Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal and Islamic Jihad chief Abdullah Shalah to discuss "Egyptian efforts to end the aggression," his office said without giving details.
But Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman insisted that "the first and absolute condition for a truce is stopping all fire from Gaza," and that all armed groups would have to commit to it.
Since the start of its Operation Pillar of Defence, launched after the killing of Hamas military chief Ahmed Jaabari in an air strike, the Israeli army says it has struck more than 1,100 targets in Gaza as militants have fired more than 800 rockets over the border. - Rappler.com, with reports from the Agence France-Presse