MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines denied on Wednesday, November 21, a claim by Israel that Filipinos in Gaza are being used as “human shields” by militant group Hamas.
“I don’t think that’s true, that indication has not been conveyed to us by our people there,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said in a press briefing.
Del Rosario stressed that the Philippines does not consider Hamas a terrorist organization but as political group in charge of Gaza since 2006.
Regarding the situation of the 120 Filipinos in Gaza, the foreign secretary said that 4 have requested to leave the area to return to the Philippines and another 8 just want to stay in Egypt until the fighting stops.
Del Rosario hopes that a truce will make things easier. “A humanitarian corridor will give us an opportunity to take out our people,” he said.
However, the Department of Foreign Affairs has deployed rapid assistance teams and put in place a contingency plan to be implemented if the hostilities escalate.
“We are prepared to meet the challenges that may develop,” Del Rosario said.
Israel insists on ‘human shields’ claim
The Israeli Embassy in Manila had previously insisted that Filipinos residing in Gaza were being used as “human shields” by Hamas against the Israeli military.
Israel noted that the border is open to any foreigner who wants to leave Gaza, but Hamas is not allowing anyone to leave to use them as “human shields” against Israeli airstrikes, the embassy claimed in a statement released Wednesday.
“To the Filipinos who live in Gaza, our border is open. Any foreigner who wishes to cross the border from Gaza to Israel, and and from Israel to the Philippines, we will assist him, but we know that Hamas is preventing foreigners, any foreigner, from leaving Gaza,” Israeli Ambassador to the Philippines Menashe Bar-On said on Tuesday, November 20.
Bar-On told reporters that Hamas “is using their citizens, and foreigners as human shields.”
A representative from the Palestinian Consulate in the Philippines was not immediately available for comment.
‘Right to self-defense’
Israel defended its operation in Gaza as part of its “right to self-defense’ against Hamas, “who has grabbed power” in this part of the Occupied Territories.
The Hebrew state claimed its military is conducting “surgical operations to prevent civilians being hurt” and lamented any loss of civilian lives in its harshest siege on the city in four years.
In Gaza City, new air strikes killed 12 people after Israeli warplanes dropped leaflets urging people to evacuate their homes amid fears of an imminent ground invasion.
At the same time Egypt is tried to broker a ceasefire.
The Palestinian death toll has risen to more than 120 after another 20 people were killed on Tuesday, among them a 15-year-old boy who was hunting birds.
Gaza militants have also fired more than 1,000 Katyusha rockets at the Jewish state, killing 3 and injuring dozens of people. – Rappler.com, with reports from Agence France-Presse
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