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In Israel’s northern hills, all eyes look to Lebanon

MANILA: A Filipino nun who stayed at her church in Gaza is unreachable, Philippine authorities said on Friday, as they are trying to evacuate 14 nationals from the city of Rafah, where 1.5 million Palestinians are crammed in tents amid heavy Israeli bombardment.

Of the 137 Filipinos trapped in Gaza since Israel began its daily bombardment of the densely populated enclave in October, authorities have so far evacuated 122 people through the besieged territory’s Rafah, which borders Egypt.

Rafah was designated a “safe zone” and became the last refuge for Palestinians forced to escape Israel’s deadly attacks from air, land and sea. About 1.5 million people, nearly 60 percent of Gaza’s population, are believed to be trapped there in tents and makeshift shelters.

Since the beginning of February, the area has been under a wave of air raids and intensifying artillery fire as Israel announced its troops would advance on the city.

Mass evacuations of foreigners from Gaza took place in November but since then, movement has been limited with Israel regularly shelling cars, including ambulances, and individuals trying to reach the border.

“There are 14 (Filipinos) who want to leave,” Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Eduardo De Vega told Arab News. “Those 14 could have left months ago, but now there’s no exit to Egypt.”

Besides them, a 63-year-old Philippine Catholic nun from the Missionaries of Charity, remained in the enclave, earlier refusing to leave her church in Gaza City.

“She still cannot be contacted,” De Vega said, adding that the last time authorities were in touch with the nun was in December.

Ambassador Wilfredo Santos, Manila’s envoy to Jordan who coordinates evacuation efforts, told the Philippine News Agency on Thursday that contact was lost when Israel intensified attacks on Gaza City.

“The church was reportedly hit by sniper fire,” he said.

UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, said on Thursday that destruction in Gaza City is “unimaginable” and “nowhere is safe” as 70 percent of its civilian infrastructure has been destroyed or severely damaged by attacks.

Over 28,700 people have been killed and 68,500 others injured during four months of Israel’s ongoing deadly onslaught on Gaza, according to the enclave’s health ministry data.

UN agencies fear the real toll is much higher as thousands of people remain trapped under the rubble and the wounded cannot seek help as Israeli forces have destroyed the majority of medical facilities.

Source: Arab News

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