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Millions trapped in south Gaza

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Millions of civilians – Palestinians and foreigners alike, including some 131 Filipinos – remained trapped in Gaza, desperately waiting for humanitarian corridors to open in the heavily bombarded enclave.

Laden with suitcases, plastic bags or even mattresses, inhabitants of northern Gaza were frantically fleeing to the south after Israel’s warning to vacate before its major offensive.

The two main crossings in and out of Gaza for civilians have been closed – Erez at the northern side of Gaza and Rafah in northeast Egypt.

Israel said Monday there was no temporary truce to allow aid in or foreigners out of the Gaza Strip where scenes of panic, anger and despair were at every corner.

“No electricity, no water, no internet. I feel like I’m losing my humanity,” said Mona Abdel Hamid, 55, who fled Gaza City to Rafah in the south of the enclave, where she is staying with strangers.

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NO WAY OUT. Map shows the shuttered Rafah crossing, Gaza’s border crossing with Egypt and the only one that bypasses Israel. Millions of people remain trapped in Gaza’s southern region while Israel’s ground offensive looms in the Palestinian enclave. AFP

The Philippine government on Monday appealed for the immediate opening of Gaza’s border with Egypt, with 78 of the 131 Filipinos in Gaza already on the territory’s southern area.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said it is “hopeful for a solution to be reached soonest in order for the Rafah crossing to start receiving foreign nationals.”

“From there, our teams will work on their repatriation to the Philippines,” the DFA added.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken returned to Israel Monday – ahead of a looming ground offensive to “destroy” the Hamas Islamist group that rules Gaza – and emphasised that “civilians should not have to suffer for Hamas’s atrocities.”

Foreigners have flocked to Rafah in the hopes of being let out, after Blinken said he was confident the crossing “will be open” for aid into the strip.

Reports had suggested that Egypt was blocking the passage of Gazans with foreign passports until relief supplies are allowed in.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office dashed hopes of a deal, saying in a statement on Monday that “there is currently no ceasefire and humanitarian aid in Gaza in return for removing foreigners.”

Israel declared war on the Palestinian Islamist group a day after waves of its fighters broke through the heavily fortified border on Oct. 7, shooting, stabbing and burning to death more than 1,400 people, most of them civilians.

Reeling from the deadliest attack in its history, Israel unleashed a relentless bombing campaign of the Gaza Strip that flattened neighbourhoods and killed at least 2,750 people, mainly civilians.

As Israel continued to mass troops along the Gaza border ahead of a major offensive, the Arab League’s chief called for an immediate end to military operations and for safe corridors to allow in aid.

The entire region was “on the verge of the abyss,” warned UN chief Antonio Guterres, as cross-border fires also intensified between Israel and the Lebanese Iran-backed Hezbollah group, which has warned of retaliation if Israeli forces invade Gaza.

Any departure of Palestinians from Gaza is a sensitive issue, with Arab nations fearing that it could lead to permanent expulsion, something which Blinken has also categorically rejected.

Lynn Hastings, the UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, meanwhile decried that Israel was connecting humanitarian aid into Gaza with the release of scores of hostages kidnapped during the Hamas attack.

“Neither should be conditional,” she insisted in a video posted by the UN.

“They have said they want to destroy Hamas, but their current trajectory is going to destroy Gaza.”

Israel has massed forces outside the long-blockaded enclave of 2.4 million in preparation for what the army has said would be a land, air and sea attack involving a “significant ground operation.”

Israel has also bolstered deployment to its northern border with Lebanon, where Hezbollah and Palestinian factions have exchanged fire in the last days with Israeli forces.

Hamas backer Iran has warned that an invasion of Gaza would be met with a response.

“No one can guarantee the control of the situation and the non-expansion of the conflicts” if Israel sends its soldiers into Gaza, said Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

Fearful that the skirmishes could escalate into a two-front war in Israel, the United States, which has given unequivocal backing to Israel, has sent two aircraft carriers to the eastern Mediterranean as a deterrent. With AFP

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