Authorities ready for mass evacuation if needed
MANILA (UPDATE) — Filipinos in Israel are "safe and sound" in general, after Palestinian militants fired rocket barrages at Israeli cities as fighting spilled into a second week, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) said on Monday.
Most buildings in Isreal have bomb shelters, and authorities are evacuating Filipinos in structures which have none of those, said OWWA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac.
“Walang napabalitaang nasaktan, nasawi. And in general, safe and sound po ang mga OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) natin sa Israel,” he said in a televised public briefing.
(None were reported hurt or killed. And in general, our OFWs in Israel are safe and sound.)
“Our OFWs are safe indoors with their employer households,” added the official.
The Department of Foreign Affairs also confirmed that no Filipino casualties have been reported so far.
Israel hosts some 30,000 OFWs, most of whom are domestic workers, said Cacdac.
However, there are only 300 Filipinos in Israel's Ashkelon and Ashdod cities, and another 100 in Gaza Strip, where the fighting is concentrated, he said.
“Kasalukuyan po ay nagsasagawa tayo ng assistance sa mga OFWs na kailangan ng tulong in terms of in-country evacuation, evacuation po within Israel, especially in the areas that I mentioned,” Cacdac said.
(We are bringing assistance to our OFWs who need help in terms of in-country evacuation, evacuation within Israel, especially in the areas that I mentioned.)
The OWWA is preparing for mass evacuation out of Israel in case the conflict worsens, he said.
"For now po, we are at same alert level, where Filipinos are advised to take precautions... The Philippine Embassy in Israel and other Philippine embassies in nearby countries are readying contingency plans, in coordination with (Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs)," said Ivy Banzon-Abalos of the DFA Office of Strategic Communication and Research.
"The Philippine Embassy is in touch with Filipino community networks to ensure it is able to reach out to as many Filipinos in case special assistance is required," she added.
DEATH TOLL CLIMBING
Israel's military said on Monday that Gaza militants had fired about 60 rockets towards Beersheba and Ashkelon cities overnight, down from 120 and 200 the two previous nights.
After this, Israeli jets bombed what the military said were 15 kilometers of underground tunnels used by Hamas. It also struck 9 residences belonging to high-ranking Hamas commanders, it said on Monday.
A Palestinian sponge factory in northern Gaza was hit in a morning air strike and firefighters battled to quell the blaze, which sent plumes of smoke into the air. One Palestinian was killed in an air strike later in the morning, medics said.
Gaza health officials put the death toll since the hostilities flared at 198, including 58 children and 34 women. Ten people have been killed in Israel, including two children, Israeli authorities say.
Hamas began its rocket assault last Monday after weeks of tensions over a court case to evict several Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, and in retaliation for Israeli police clashes with Palestinians near the city's al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third holiest site, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
World concern had already deepened after an Israeli air strike in Gaza that destroyed several homes on Sunday and which Palestinian health officials said killed 42 people, including 10 children, and persistent rocket attacks on Israeli towns.
"All parties need to deescalate tensions - the violence must end immediately", US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote on Twitter, injecting more urgency into Washington's calls for calm after speaking with Egypt's foreign minister.
At a UN Security Council meeting on Sunday, the United States said it had made clear to Israel, the Palestinians and others that it was ready to offer support "should the parties seek a ceasefire".
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel's campaign in Gaza was continuing at "full force", and that deterrence had to be achieved to prevent future conflict with Hamas.
"We are acting now, for as long as necessary, to restore calm and quiet to you, Israel's citizens. It will take time," Netanyahu said in a televised address after his security Cabinet met on Sunday.
The Israeli military said Hamas, a group regarded by Israel, the United States and the European Union as a terrorist movement, and other armed factions have fired about 3,150 rockets from Gaza over the past week.
Israel's missile defense system intercepted around 90 percent of the rockets, and around 460 landed in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas said its attacks were in retaliation for Israel's "ongoing aggression against civilians", including the air strike in Gaza City on Sunday that destroyed a number of homes.
The Israeli military said civilian casualties were unintentional and that its jets attacked a tunnel system used by militants, which collapsed, bringing the homes down. Hamas called it "pre-meditated killing".
On US network CBS' "Face the Nation" program, Netanyahu defended another Israeli air strike a day earlier that destroyed a 12-story building where the Associated Press and the Al Jazeera TV network had offices.
He said the structure also housed the militant group's intelligence office, making it a legitimate target.
Israel had given advance warning to occupants to leave. The Associated Press has condemned the strike and called on Israel to present evidence that Hamas was in the building.
– With a report from Reuters