spot_img
27.2 C
Philippines
Wednesday, February 21, 2024

More Pinoys to leave Israel

- Advertisement -

DFA convincing 26 Filipinos in Gaza to repatriate; more hostages freed

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is expecting more Filipinos to return home from Israel, which is at war with the Palestinian Hamas group, as it is still convincing the remaining 26 Pinoys in Gaza to join 111 who have already fled the Strip and returned to Manila.

Hamas fighters were set Sunday to release a third group of Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, a day after freeing captives including a young woman snatched from a desert rave.

One of two Filipino hostages held by Hamas, Gelienor Pacheco, was released earlier with the first batch, but the fate of the second, Noralyn Babadilla, was as yet unclear.

The Israeli government will give “Jimmy” Pacheco and his family lifetime social security benefits and regular stipends like those given to Israelis who are victims of terrorist attacks, the Philippine Embassy in Israel said Sunday.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen visited Pacheco at a hospital where he is recovering after 49 days in captivity in Gaza.

- Advertisement -

“I am only alive because of the Lord. Even on the day they abducted me, I was really thinking about my family. While I was in Gaza, I just wanted to live for my family,” the embassy quoted Pacheco as saying.

In a Facebook post, Pacheco shared a photo of his breakfast, saying he was no longer eating tissue paper.

Pacheco was among those released from war-torn Gaza after Israel and Hamas agreed on a four-day humanitarian truce. He was abducted during the Hamas attack on Kibbutz Nir Oz on Oct. 7.

Meanwhile, DFA Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega said a ninth batch of almost 300 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Israel – which is also fighting back attacks from militants based in Lebanon in the north and the West Bank aside from Gaza — who flew back to the Philippines over the weekend.

Pinoys in Lebanon would take longer to repatriate, the department said.

In a sign of the fragility of the exchanges, the latest swap Saturday was delayed for hours after Hamas accused Israel of breaching its side of the deal that led to a four-day ceasefire in the seven-week-old war.

Despite the dispute, Hamas finally released 13 Israelis and four Thai hostages at night, officials said.

Israel said it in turn freed 39 Palestinian prisoners.

Repatriation

The DFA on Sunday said the government continues its repatriation of Filipinos and their families in Israel and Lebanon.

“We continue our repatriation effort in Israel – we had a ninth batch for up to 299 OFWs who flew in with 14 infants or children,” De Vega said.

The DFA said the latest batch of Filipinos who returned home brought the total number of repatriates from Israel to 313.

He said the 10th batch would arrive in Manila this week.

The Philippine government has activated its repatriation program for Filipinos in Israel, Gaza, and Lebanon as the Israel-Hamas war rages on, killing thousands in the war-torn Gaza.

In Lebanon, the DFA gave an update about the separate repatriation effort for Filipinos as the Israel-Hamas war persists.

“In Lebanon, we have 37 OFWs. We had arrivals last Wednesday and we’re processing around 200 in Lebanon,” De Vega said.

But he explained the processing of departure of the repatriates may take longer than usual because some of them were undocumented.

Nonetheless, De Vega said they are exhausting all options for those who seek voluntary repatriation in Lebanon.

List of hostages

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it had since received a list of hostages due to be released by Hamas on Sunday.

The list was being checked by security officials, it said, and families of the hostages had been informed.

Among the hostages freed late Saturday was 21-year-old Maya Regev, who had been kidnapped by Hamas fighters in their deadly assault on the Supernova music festival, a brutal episode in the broader Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

She was the first of the music festival hostages to be released since armed Hamas fighters swooped on the event, killing hundreds, taking captives, and sending others fleeing for their lives.

Maya Regev and her 18-year-old brother Itay, who was also abducted from the festival, were shown tied up in the back of a pick-up truck in a video posted on social media after the attack.

“I am so excited and happy that Maya is on her way to us now. Nonetheless, my heart is split because my son Itay is still in Hamas captivity in Gaza,” her mother Mirit said in a statement released by the hostage families’ forum.

‘Sigh of relief’

The family of Emily Hand, a nine-year-old Israeli-Irish freed hostage, said they were “overjoyed” to embrace her again.

“We can’t find the words to describe our emotions after 50 challenging and complicated days,” the family said in a statement via the forum.

“We are overjoyed to embrace Emily again, but at the same time, we remember… all the hundreds of hostages who have yet to return.”

The girl ran into the tight embrace of her father upon her release, a video by the Israeli Defense Forces showed.

“An innocent child who was lost has now been found and returned, and we breathe a massive sigh of relief,” said Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.

Thailand’s Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said the four hostages from his country released Saturday were healthy.

“Everyone is glad to be released. Overall mental health is still good,” he said in a social media post.

Israeli prison authorities said the latest group of released Palestinian detainees included 38-year-old Israa Jaabis, sentenced to 11 years in jail for detonating a gas cylinder at a checkpoint in 2015.

The ceasefire and hostage-for-prisoner swap have brought the first significant relief to both sides since Oct. 7, when Hamas fighters broke through Gaza’s militarized border with Israel, snatched around 240 people and killed about 1,200 Israelis and foreigners, mostly civilians, according to Israeli authorities.

Israel launched an air, artillery and naval bombardment alongside a ground offensive to destroy Hamas, killing nearly 15,000 people, mostly civilians and including thousands of children, according to the Hamas government in Gaza.

Ceasefire extension?

Egypt has said that it received positive feedback from both sides about the idea of extending the truce for a day or two and releasing more hostages and prisoners.

“It’s only a start, but so far it’s gone well,” US President Joe Biden told reporters Friday, adding “the chances are real” for extending the truce.

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi called for “a permanent ceasefire and a complete end to this aggression.”

But Israeli armed forces chief Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said Saturday that the war to eliminate Hamas would continue.

“We will return immediately at the end of the ceasefire to attack Gaza,” Halevi said.

“We will also do this in order to dismantle Hamas, also to create a great deal of pressure to return as quickly as possible and as many abductees as possible, every last one of them.”

The latest hostage handover was delayed when Hamas said Israel was interfering in the selection of prisoners for release and not allowing aid to reach civilians in Gaza.

Hamas later said it relented when Egyptian and Qatari mediators relayed a promise by Israel to uphold the accord.

Israeli officials denied any breach of the ceasefire’s terms, describing Hamas’ actions as “psychological warfare.”

West Bank celebrations

Despite the row, Sunday’s release would be the third since the four-day truce entered into force Friday.

Hamas has released 26 Israeli hostages in exchange for 78 Palestinian prisoners in the two releases already completed.

The militants have also freed a total of 14 Thais and one Filipino. Iran’s foreign ministry said it had joined with key mediator Qatar to help negotiate the release of the Thai nationals.

Israeli hostages who were let go in the initial swap Friday have since reunited with their families in touching scenes.

Nine-year-old boy Ohad rounded the corner of a corridor in a hospital near Tel Aviv, breaking into a run when he caught sight of his father and hurling himself into his arms, video images showed.

The boy, his mother, and grandmother were among those released in the first exchange Friday.

In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, fireworks exploded and crowds filled the streets to welcome the first release of Palestinian prisoners on Friday.

“I was just waiting for the day I would be released from prison so I could hug my mother like this,” said Rawan Abu Matar, who served eight years for attempting to stab an Israeli soldier.

Hamas is expected to free a total of 50 hostages during the truce in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners, under an agreement brokered by Qatar, Egypt and the United States.

Aid trucks enter Gaza

The pause in fighting has also allowed more aid to reach Palestinians struggling to survive with shortages of water and other essentials. Israel had placed Gaza under near-total siege.

A total of 61 trucks delivered food, water and humanitarian aid via a “humanitarian passageway” to northern Gaza on Saturday, the United Nations office for humanitarian affairs said.

Another 187 trucks of vital supplies had been sent separately to aid organizations operating in the Gaza Strip, it said.

The UN estimates that 1.7 million of Gaza’s 2.4 million people have been displaced by the fighting.

Thousands have been returning since the truce to what is left of their homes.

“We are civilians,” said Mahmud Masood, standing in front of flattened buildings in Jabalia, northern Gaza. “Why have they destroyed our houses?”

Israeli troops killed eight Palestinians over a 24-hour period in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry said Sunday.

Five people were killed by Israeli army fire in Jenin, the ministry said, during an incursion by a large number of armored vehicles into the city, which was recently the scene of the deadliest Israeli raid in the West Bank in almost 20 years.

Medical sources said15 people were wounded, while witnesses reported that an Israeli drone had carried out an air strike on Jenin’s refugee camp.

Other witnesses said on Saturday that the Israeli army had surrounded Jenin’s public hospital and the Ibn Sina clinic, and that soldiers were searching ambulances.

They also reported heavy fighting with automatic weapons.

The Israeli army said it had carried out “counterterrorism activities” overnight in the Jenin refugee camp, a stronghold of Palestinian armed groups in the north of the territory.

It said it had arrested the suspected perpetrator of an attack that killed two Israelis in August.

A 25-year-old doctor was killed on Saturday outside his home in Qabatiya, near Jenin, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

A Palestinian was also killed in El-Bireh, near the city of Ramallah, and another during an Israeli army raid on a village south of Nablus, it said. – AFP with Rey E. Requejo

- Advertisement -

LATEST NEWS

Popular Articles