Israel-Hamas war

Rafah Crossing closes over weekend; 20 Filipinos still on standby 

Bea Cupin

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Rafah Crossing closes over weekend; 20 Filipinos still on standby 

AID CONVOY. Egyptian Red Crescent members and volunteers gather next to a truck carrying humanitarian aid as it drives through the Rafah crossing from the Egyptian side, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah, Egypt October 22, 2023.


Twenty people are part of the first batch of Filipino nationals that would be allowed out of Gaza, but officials from Egypt say evacuations stopped after an Israeli strike on an ambulance in Gaza

MANILA, Philippines – Twenty Filipino nationals, alongside hundreds of foreigners and dual citizens waiting to flee the besieged Gaza Strip, have not been able to exit the enclave. The Philippines had expected the first batch of nationals to exit through the Rafa crossing by Sunday, November 5, at the latest.

“Rafah border crossing was suspended for two days, Saturday and Sunday,” said Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega, who handles migrant workers affairs for the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs, in a text message to Rappler on Monday, November 6.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. earlier said Israel had promised to let out Filipino nationals inside Gaza by Saturday, November 4. De Vega later said evacuations would commence by November 6.

“Everything may be moved by two days: the initial date of departure for the first batch of 20 Filipinos was for Sunday but then it was moved for today, Monday. Now it may be moved again for tomorrow, Tuesday,” added De Vega.

“There are still 20 Pinoys in this first batch. But as of now, we are not even certain that there will be a crossing today. It could be 3 straight days with the Rafah crossing closed. We will find out later,” added De Vega.

Rafah Crossing, the only point at which anyone can exit Gaza, had been closed to evacuations since Saturday, Reuters reported.

Citing Egyptian official sources, Reuters said the stoppage in letting people exit Gaza was triggered by an Israeli strike on an ambulance in Gaza on Friday. Egypt, the United States, and Qatar were working to resume evacuations.

Qatar, which has played a major role in facilitating humanitarian aid and hostage releases, said it was also pushing to resume crossings but no timeline was set.

“The bombing of hospitals and the bombing of ambulances, which are part of this agreement for ambulance convoys to move patients out of harm’s way, certainly does not help,” said Majed Al Ansari, spokesperson for Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a briefing on Sunday.

“We urge all parties, but especially the occupation army to make sure that there is safe routes and that the agreement, as it was reached, is respected,” he added.

The United Nations Secretary General and aid agencies working in Gaza have condemned Israel’s air strike on an ambulance on Friday.

The Health Ministry, a hospital director, and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society in the Hamas-controlled enclave have said the Israeli strike targeted a convoy of ambulances evacuating wounded people from the besieged northern Gaza area.

Gaza, a Palestinian territory administered by Hamas, has been under heavy assault by Israel following an October 7 surprise attack by Hamas on southern Israeli towns. Tel Aviv has claimed its attacks are done in self-defense, but various governments and organizations – especially the people still trapped inside Gaza – have called for a ceasefire.

Israel has insisted it would not accede to these calls, even as it targets civilian structures, refugee camps, and even hospitals and ambulance convoys.

Exit from Gaza

It is Israel that determines who is allowed to exit Gaza. It has, thus far, barred Palestinians – or anyone without a foreign passport – from leaving. For the Filipino nationals in Gaza, that has meant having choose between safety or leaving behind their Palestinian loved ones.

People were finally let out of Gaza less than a week ago, through a deal led by Qatar and in coordination with Egypt, Israel, Hamas, and the United States.

The Philippines had been hoping Palestinian spouses and family would be allowed out, alongside Filipino nationals, with the embassy in Cairo preparing to fly out up to 150 individuals from Egypt to Manila. That scenario has seemed more and more unlikely.

On October 7, there were 136 Filipinos inside Gaza, an enclave under severe blockade by Israel. Of that number, 2 Filipino doctors from Doctors Without Borders were first allowed to leave.

The 134 nationals left inside the besieged strip of land all have exit permits but only 43 had said they wanted to leave Gaza because they did not want to leave their Palestinian loved ones behind.

Before evacuations at the Rafah Crossing were shut down, some 500 individuals were let out per day.

Gaza, already subject to decades of struggle under Israeli occupation by virtue of its blockades, is in ever dire straits as Tel Aviv’s onslaught intensifies. The United Nations and other aide groups have long sounded the alarm over the lack of clean food, water, and sanitation in Gaza.

Over the weekend Israeli fire hit several water facilities in Gaza Strip, according to a United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) report.

Over 1,400 Israeli and foreign nationals were killed in Israel, mostly during the October 7 attack. Israeli officials say 242 people are still held captive in Gaza, following the initial attack on Israel towns.

UN OCHA, using data from the Ministry of Health in Gaza, estimates over 9,770 people have been killed inside the enclave – many of them children, women, and the elderly. On average, UN OCHA estimates that 134 children are killed in Gaza daily since October 7. – with reports from Reuters/

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.