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1st batch escape war-torn Gaza

ESCAPE AT LAST. Scores of foreign passport holders trapped in Gaza make a mad dash to enter the Rafah border crossing that was opened for the first time for evacuees on Nov. 1, 2023 since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel. Below photos show Palestinian health ministry ambulances crossing the gate to enter the border crossing to Egypt while a man leads a donkey-drawn cart carrying luggage outside the Rafah gate. AFP
Rey E. Requejo

2 Filipino doctors among group of foreigners to flee to Egypt

A first group of foreigners and dual nationals fleeing war-torn Gaza arrived in Egypt on Wednesday, mostly women and children, an Egyptian official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Parents with strollers and elderly people were seen among those getting off a bus on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing in footage broadcast by an Egyptian TV channel close to the intelligence services.

Two Filipino doctors working with the international humanitarian organization Doctors without Borders were among foreign nationals allowed to exit Gaza, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega said.

“This is just the initial list,” De Vega said. “We are engaging with Israel to prioritize Filipinos among the nationalities to be first allowed exit. Right now, they are prioritizing members of international organizations.”

Out of the 136 Filipinos in Gaza Strip, 57 are already at the Rafa crossing, he said.

The Philippine Embassy in Jordan, which has jurisdiction over Filipinos in the Gaza Strip, is awaiting contact with a family of 10 Filipinos.

“The Embassy thinks that they are not included in those who died,” the official stressed.

De Vega said 165 Filipinos are also currently awaiting repatriation in Lebanon amid the escalating tensions there between Israel and the Islamist group Hezbollah, a known ally of Hamas.

The evacuation of the first people to escape war-torn Gaza provided a rare glimmer of hope in an otherwise desolate humanitarian crisis, with more than 8,500 killed in Israeli bombing, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Ambulances rushed wounded Palestinians out of Gaza for urgent medical care in Egypt Wednesday, with hundreds of desperate foreign passport holders also poised to flee the territory devastated by three weeks of war with Israel.

AFP reporters saw a phalanx of 40 white ambulances streaming through the Rafah border crossing, as crowds of foreign and dual national families gathered nearby, hoping to leave the catastrophic conditions of Gaza behind them.

At least two children were seen in the ambulances, one with a large bandage wrapped around his stomach, as medics examined the wounded and transferred them to stretchers.

“We are overwhelmed… Have mercy on us. We are Egyptians and can’t cross into our country,” Umm Yussef, a dual Palestinian-Egyptian national, told AFP on the Gaza side.

“Let us in. We are exhausted. We can’t sleep or eat.”

AFPTV images showed whole families, struggling to carry their worldly possessions, rushing through the heavily fortified crossing towards Egypt, which was expected to take at least 400 refugees and 90 of the most badly wounded and sick.

Israel has relentlessly pounded Gaza in retribution for the worst attack in the country’s history, when Hamas gunmen stormed across the border, killing 1,400 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli officials.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to “continue until victory” over Hamas, despite “painful losses” in brutal fighting inside Gaza that cost 11 Israeli soldiers their lives Tuesday.

AFP reporters saw more tanks pour over the border into northern Gaza, as Israel stepped up its ground incursion launched late last week.

Images provided by the military showed troops picking through bombed-out houses searching for militants or some of the 240 hostages seized by Hamas.

The temporary border opening with Egypt provided the first glimmer of hope in the flaring humanitarian crisis in Gaza which the UN and other aid agencies have described as “unprecedented.”

A strike on Gaza’s largest refugee camp killed at least 47 people Tuesday – including a Hamas commander involved in the Oct. 7 attacks, according to Israel.

A large explosion ripped through the densely packed Jabalia camp before nightfall, tearing facades off nearby buildings and leaving a deep, debris-littered crater.

AFP witnessed at least 47 corpses being recovered.

Horrified resident Ragheb Aqal, 41, likened the blast to “an earthquake” and spoke of seeing “homes buried under the rubble and body parts and martyrs and wounded in huge numbers.”

Israel said its warplanes had struck a “vast” tunnel complex at the site, killing “many Hamas terrorists,” including local battalion commander Ibrahim Biari.

But the strike sparked a chorus of condemnation from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and also further afield in Bolivia, which cut off diplomatic ties in protest – a decision Israel labelled “surrender to terrorism.”

Hamas said seven hostages, including three foreign passport holders, had died in the strike, a claim impossible to verify.

The humanitarian situation in Gaza remains desperate, with food, fuel, and medicine for the 2.4 million residents all running short, according to aid groups.

Surgeons are conducting amputations on hospital floors without anesthetic, and children are forced to drink salty water, said Jean-Francois Corty, vice-president of Medecins du Monde, which has 20 staff on the ground.

Palestinian residents told AFP they had evacuated from northern Gaza, as demanded by Israel, but they were still under threat.

“We’ve been told people are evacuating from Gaza City towards the central area of the Strip beyond the valley, so we headed there. After 20 days, we were bombarded. Three of our kids lost their lives and we all got injured,” Amen Al Aqlouk told AFP.

“There is no hope in the Gaza Strip. It is not safe anymore here. When the border opens, everybody will leave and emigrate. We encounter death every day, 24 hours a day.”

Israeli officials said 70 trucks with aid were allowed to enter Gaza from Egypt Tuesday, one of the biggest flows since a US-brokered deal was reached, but far less than humanitarian groups say is needed.

Fearing supplies entering Gaza could be diverted to Hamas, or that aid shipments could conceal arms or other supplies, Israel’s security personnel carry out stringent inspections that have slowed the flow of aid to a trickle.

With fears mounting that the violence could spiral into a regional war, US President Joe Biden called for “urgent mechanisms” to dial down tensions and said they would send his top diplomat Antony Blinken on another Middle East tour from Friday.

Israelis are facing a daily barrage of aerial attacks from Hamas and other Iran-backed groups around the Middle East.

Yemen’s Huthi rebels said they had “launched a large batch of ballistic missiles… and a large number of armed aircraft” towards Israel on Tuesday.

Israel’s military said a “hostile aircraft intrusion” had set off warning sirens in Eilat, its Red Sea resort, and a surface-to-surface missile was “successfully intercepted.”

In the north, Israel has traded near-daily fire with Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement.

And the families of hostages have an unbearable wait for news of relatives thought to be held in the labyrinth of tunnels deep below Gaza.

Ayelet Sella, whose seven cousins were kidnapped from one of the kibbutz communities raided by Hamas gunmen, said she could find “no rest” until her loved ones are returned.

“We have no more tears, our eyes are dry, we are empty three weeks on,” said Sella, speaking to AFP at the Great Synagogue in Paris. “I only ask for one thing, that they come back.” With AFP

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