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ISRAEL-HAMAS WAR WORSENS; 3 Filipinos killed, others missing; Biden, Pope call for humanitarian corridor, aid for Palestinians in Gaza

By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in Chief

TEL AVIV/MANILA/WASHINGTON – As the Israel-Hamas war appears to be worsening and may spill over to nearby Middle East countries like Lebanon, Syria and Iran, repatriation of Filipinos in Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, Philippine authorities are speeding up evacuation and repatriation of Filipinos there which has been ordered mandatory.
Already, at least three Filipinos have been confirmed dead in the war while at least three others are reportedly missing.

At press time, the Armed Forces of the Philippines is in frenzied mood readying its aircraft in case Philippine authorities will tap them to help with the repatriation of Filipinos caught in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

Already, scores of Filipinos, fearing worsening conditions in the state, have been repatriated via Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport and first and second batches of the Filipino workers and students have arrived in Manila.

United States President Joe Biden, meanwhile, flew to Tel Aviv and engaged Israeli and Palestinian officials in a flurry of meetings together with relatives of the victims of the first Hamas attacks on Israel, attempting to prevent the war from expanding and mapping out plans for a humanitarian mission for the Palestinians caught in the confrontation in the Gaza Strip and elsewhere.

Before flying home to Washington D.C., Biden said Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has agreed to open the Rafah Crossing to allow about 20 trucks carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. It was not clear, however, if refugees wanting to leave Gaza will be allowed to cross to Egypt to escape the war and seek refuge elsewhere.

Biden was supposed to hold a summit with the leaders of Israel, Jordan and Egypt, but this was abruptly cancelled due to the bombing of a hospital in Gaza in which 500 people were reportedly killed. Israel was being blamed for the bombing, but Israeli denied this and insisted it was the Palestine Hezbolah who was behind the attack.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis called for all efforts to be made to avoid a “humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza, and expressed concern at risk of a widening of the Hamas-Israel conflict.

“The victims are increasing and the situation in Gaza is desperate. Please do everything possible to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe,” the 86-year-old Pontiff said at the end of his weekly audience at the Vatican.

The DFA said a total of 135 Filipinos have evacuated to Southern Gaza amid the conflict.

It added it is still awaiting word when the Gaza-Egypt border will be opened since Israel has control over the Rafah border.

The Philippine Embassy has submitted the names of Filipinos in Gaza to the  government of Egypt to guarantee their safe crossing.
Meanwhile, about 200 individuals are still being held by the Hamas as hostages, including the 21-year-old Israeli, Omer Shem Tov. He was among the individuals taken from the Supernova Music Festival on October 7.
In another development, the family of one of the three overseas Filipinos workers who have remained unaccounted for  is hoping for her safe return.

In a “24 Oras” report by Zen Quilantang of GMA Region TV One Western Visayas, information has reached the family of Grace Prodigo-Cabrera that the OFW was taken hostage by the group during its attack in Kibbutz Beeri.

“Ang kapatid niya, ang bunso, safe na siya. Tinanong ko siya, si Grace? Sabi niya na-hostage. Panalangin ko lang na ligtas siya,” said the victim’s mother Paterna Prodigo.

“Gusto ko sana na mag-apela na huwag lang tayong maghintay sa resulta. Gusto ko sana na mag-apela ang presidente sa mga Hamas na huwag nilang patayin ang mga Pinoy kasi naiipit lang din sila sa conflict ng Israel at Palestinian,” said Mae Minierva, the OFW’s sister.

The government has yet to confirm whether Grace was abducted, but the local government of Maasin in Iloilo said it has received information that the OFW’s name was on the list of those taken captive by Hamas.