A 63-year-old Filipino Catholic nun has chosen to remain in Gaza amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, transforming her church into a refuge for hundreds of trapped residents.
Evacuation efforts: Since the recent violence erupted last month, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs has so far successfully evacuated 111 Filipinos from the region. The latest batch evacuated, a group of 41 Filipinos, including seven Palestinians, reached Manila on Nov. 12.
Spiritual calling: The unnamed nun from the Missionaries of Charity is among the 26 Filipinos, predominantly permanent residents, still in the besieged region. The Philippines' Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Eduardo De Vega acknowledged the difficulty in convincing her to leave, noting that her spiritual commitment posed a unique challenge.
“She’s with the Missionaries of Charity … They will not leave. After all, they believe … that (what they are doing) is spiritual,” De Vega told Arab News. “She will be the last Filipino left in Gaza, (and) is a symbol of Filipino spirituality and how we pray for solidarity with those suffering, and for world peace.”
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Escalating violence: On Oct. 7, Palestinian gunmen associated with Hamas infiltrated Israel, resulting in attacks on Israeli troops and the tragic massacre of civilians. Around 1,200 people in Israel and Gaza lost their lives, with thousands sustaining injuries. The attack prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to declare war against Hamas, signaling a severe escalation in hostilities.
The recent surge in violence follows a year of escalating tensions between Israel and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, areas that have been under a joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade since 2007.
Current challenges: According to De Vega, continued Israeli bombardments have caused transit suspensions at the Rafah crossing, the sole entry point to Gaza not directly controlled by Tel Aviv.
He also noted that despite the Philippine government's crisis alert level 4 in Gaza, mandating evacuation, some Filipinos were reluctant to evacuate, either due to their attachments or concerns about their Palestinian spouses' inability to join them. The government remains determined to evacuate all nationals, with ongoing efforts and diplomatic engagement occurring with those hesitant to leave.
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