7 OFWs missing, 22 saved as war in Israel rages
MANILA, Philippines — Seven Filipinos remain missing while 22 others have been rescued in the Gaza Strip amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant nationalist group Hamas, according to the Philippine Embassy in Tel Aviv.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), quoting the country’s ambassador to Israel, said on Monday night that based on the information verified by the Philippine Embassy in Tel Aviv, “there were 29 Filipinos that were initially reported missing. Twenty-two have been rescued by Israeli security forces, transferred to a safer area and are now housed in hotels.”
One of those rescued was being treated in a hospital in Beersheba for “moderate injuries sustained during the rescue,” while another was treated for smoke inhalation but later discharged, it added. Both have been visited by the embassy’s labor attaché and welfare officer.
“Seven remain unaccounted for, who cannot be contacted via their mobile number and social media accounts,” the DFA said, adding that the Philippine Embassy was closely coordinating with Israeli security authorities and community contacts to determine their whereabouts.
Speaking at the Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon news briefing aired on state television on Monday, Administrator Arnell Ignacio of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) identified the five “missing or unaccounted for” Filipinos as Grace Cabrera, Shelly Romillo, Norilyn Babadilla, Gallenor Leandro Pacheco and Loreta Alacre.
He also named four others who were rescued as Loreta de Costa, Buena Besol, Marilyn Magana, and Joey Fasulingan.
Fasulingan, who hails from Cagayan Valley region, was hit by a bullet and was already recovering at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, the Owwa chief said.
It was not clear if these missing, rescued, and injured Filipinos were among those monitored by the DFA through the embassy in Tel Aviv.
According to the DFA, at least 25 of the 137 Filipinos in the Gaza area have asked to be repatriated.
The Philippine Embassy in Amman, Jordan, one of Israel’s neighbors, has also received requests for repatriation from Filipinos in Gaza, it said.
“Numbers may change as some are still undecided but as of [Monday], 25 who have signified their intention informed [the embassy that] they want to leave Gaza,” DFA spokesperson Ma. Teresita Daza said.
The Philippine Embassy in Israel also said that it had relayed the call for help of a Filipino woman who claimed she recognized her husband as the man being held by armed individuals, most likely in Gaza, in one of the war videos shown in social media.
Foreign Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega, another guest at the Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon news briefing, said the Philippine Embassy had been in touch with authorities in Israel to ensure the safety of Filipinos there.
He said most of the 30,000 Filipinos in Israel were in Tel Aviv.
While there were around 300 agriculture students in the southern part of Israel, De Vega said they were all safe and the embassy was in touch with them.
In Gaza itself, there were around 150 Filipinos, according to De Vega, but Ignacio cited Owwa records showing there were 200 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Gaza and another 137 Filipinos who were already residents there and had married Israelis.
De Vega said that based on calls to the embassy’s hotlines, the top concerns that Filipinos in Israel relayed were their worries and fears about being in a shelter, messages to inquire about fellow Filipinos whom they were not able to contact, and assurances to the embassy that they were safe.
Meanwhile, Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin on Monday urged the government to use the remainder of the P13 billion in contingent funds in the 2023 national budget to aid Filipinos affected by the conflict in Israel.
She said the funds were meant for emergency situations such as helping OFWs trapped in the ongoing conflict and providing them with jobs.
Rising death toll
The death toll from Israel’s war with Hamas on Monday surged above 1,100 by the third day of clashes, with Israeli troops fighting to regain control of the desert around the Gaza Strip and evacuate people from the embattled border area.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Israel on Sunday to prepare for a “long and difficult” conflict a day after Hamas launched a surprise assault from Gaza, firing a barrage of rockets and sending a wave of fighters who gunned down civilians and took at least 100 hostages. (See related story in World, Page B4.)
More than 700 Israelis have been killed since Hamas launched its large-scale attack, according to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on Monday. Another 1,200 people have been wounded, many critically.
In retaliation, Israeli airstrikes hammered the impoverished and blockaded Gaza Strip, an enclave of 2.3 million people, with officials there reporting at least 413 Palestinian deaths.
“Overnight IDF fighter jets, helicopters, aircraft, and artillery struck over 500 Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip,” the military said in a statement.
IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus estimated around 1,000 Palestinian militants had participated in Hamas’ assault on Saturday.
“Never before have so many Israelis been killed by one single thing, let alone enemy activity in one day,” he said.
The conflict has had a global impact, with several other countries reporting nationals killed, abducted, or missing, among them Brazil, Britain, France, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, Nepal, Thailand, and Ukraine.
At least four US citizens were killed in the attack, US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement, adding that the toll was likely to rise.
Oil prices soared more than 4 percent on Monday, sparking concerns about possible supply shocks from the crude-rich region.