x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Philippines sends 'rapid response' teams to evacuate nationals in Gaza

One team is heading to Egypt and another to Israel to design an exit strategy for Filipinos in Gaza.

MANILA // The Philippines is sending two "rapid response" teams of diplomats to the Middle East to prepare for possible evacuations of its nationals in conflict-torn Gaza.

One team was heading to Egypt and another to Israel tonight to help the countries' Philippine embassies design an exit strategy for Filipinos there, foreign department spokesman Raul Hernandez said.

"We wanted to be proactive and not be caught flat-footed when the time comes for moving them out and taking them out of harm's way," Mr Hernandez said, without specifying how many officials were going from Manila.

Rocket attacks and air strikes have claimed at least 90 lives in six days of violence between Israel and the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip.

Mr Hernandez said there were about 100 Filipinos in Gaza who may need to be evacuated, although so far nobody has asked for Manila's help. Many Filipinos in Gaza are married to Palestinians and may be reluctant to leave, he said.

He said about 41,000 Filipinos live in Israel and they may also need diplomatic assistance due to the escalating violence.

The Philippines was criticised for being slow to evacuate an estimated 26,000 nationals from Libya as fighting intensified there at the beginning of 2011.

Roughly nine million Filipinos work around the world earning more than they could in their poverty-stricken home country. The money they send home is a major pillar of the economy, but they are often exposed to danger overseas.

In response to the Israeli air strikes on Gaza, hundreds of Indonesian Muslim hardliners staged a protest outside the US embassy in Jakarta yesterday calling for jihad, or holy war.

The 400 members of the Indonesian branch of Muslim organisation Hizbut Tahrir carried banners reading "The US backs Israel, crush them".

Over the past six days, 87 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza with three Israelis also killed.