DFA teams fly to Israel, Egypt to aid Filipinos

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DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez. CATHY MIRANDA/INQUIRER.net FILE PHOTO

Two rapid response teams (RRT) have been sent to Egypt and Israel to assist in the possible evacuation of some 100 Filipinos and their Palestinian spouses in conflict-stricken Gaza, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a press briefing Monday.

DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez said most Filipinos married to Palestinians won’t leave without their spouses. “So if ever there is a need to repatriate, maybe we have to also repatriate their spouses,” he said.

Hernandez said that although repatriation is usually for Filipinos “if our nationals will not leave without their families and we are so concerned about their safety, we might as well bring their families along with them.”

The DFA official said “the RRTs are there to do an assessment of the condition, as well as to prepare for possible evacuation,” although there has been no reported Filipino casualty in the recent escalation of violence between the Israeli military and the Gaza-based Palestinian extremist group Hamas.

But the Philippine embassies in Egypt and Israel—which border the Gaza Strip—have identified possible exit points in coordination with authorities in the area, Hernandez said. “Some exit points in Israel are protected by Hamas (so) we’ll have to use other exit points in the contingency plans.”

There are about 41,000 Filipinos in Israel, the DFA spokesperson said, but at this time there is no danger to them that would warrant an evacuation.

“Our priority (are) the Filipinos in the Gaza Strip (which is) controlled by Hamas,” he added.

As of Sunday, no one had requested evacuation, Hernandez said.  “But we are preparing for the worst-case scenario,” he added.

The Filipinos “were alerted to be  mindful of security and safety and to watch out for advisories from embassies,” Hernandez said, adding that families may call the DFA’s 24-hour hotline (632) 8433333 for updates on the situation in Gaza.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the attacks by Palestinian militants targeting Israel and called on Israel to exercise maximum restraint.
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has also voiced its concern over the violence which it said “put civilians at great risk.”
“We support the calls of the Secretary-General for an immediate de-escalation of tensions and his demand that both sides should do everything to avoid further escalation and must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law to ensure the protection of civilians at all times,” the UN said. Erika Sauler, PDI and Fat Reyes, INQUIRER.net

Originally posted: 12:37 pm | Monday, November 19th, 2012

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