As Trudeau pleads for end to violence, Ottawa says no more Canadians have left Gaza

OTTAWA — No Canadians were able to leave the besieged Gaza Strip on Wednesday, Global Affairs Canada confirmed, hours after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered an impassioned plea for a "humanitarian pause" in the clashes between Israeli forces and Hamas.

Trudeau, who also faced renewed pleas on Wednesday that Canada call for a full ceasefire, said a pause is necessary to get more foreign nationals out and to "get back on track" to creating a two-state solution in the Middle East.

Global Affairs Canada confirmed in a late-day media statement that the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt was closed on Wednesday and "no foreign nationals crossed."

It said the Canadian embassy in Cairo is providing consular assistance, food, accommodations and basic necessities to 75 Canadians, permanent residents and their family members who were able to cross into Egypt on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department had said in a midday press briefing that the crossing was closed on Wednesday due to a "security circumstance."

Rob Oliphant, parliamentary secretary for Joly, told reporters earlier on Wednesday that Canada is working with Egypt, Israel and Qatar, and "we are doing everything we can do to get them out as quickly as possible," but emphasized that Canada does not control the process for who gets to leave, including when.

Global Affairs repeated that the situation remains "fluid and unpredictable," and Canadians should be prepared for "significant delays and unexpected closures" at the border crossing.

In his remarks on Wednesday, Trudeau noted that Tuesday marked exactly one month since renewed violence erupted with Hamas militants launching "horrific" attacks on Israeli civilians.

"Every day since then, we've seen violence and horrific images of families, elderly, mothers, children killed," he told reporters before the Liberals' weekly caucus meeting.

The current war is the deadliest to date between Israel and Hamas, an armed militant group that Canada has long listed as terrorist entity.

Israel's government says 1,400 Israelis have been killed, most of them on Oct. 7 when Hamas fighters stormed through the Gaza border, taking another 240 people hostage.

In the weeks since, the Israeli military has responded with massive force, launching thousands of airstrikes with the stated goal of destroying Hamas. The Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry is reporting more than 10,000 Palestinians dead, including thousands of children.

Six Canadian citizens have died, along with another person with "deep connections to Canada," and two Canadians remain missing, according to Global Affairs Canada.

"We're watching it on TV every night, seeing it all over our social media, and Canadians are hurting and crying out that it needs to stop," Trudeau said.

A humanitarian pause is needed, the prime minister said — one that lasts long enough to allow all foreign nationals, including Canadians, a chance to escape, and one that also allows more humanitarian aid to flow into the territory.

Such a pause must happen "while we begin doing the work of de-escalating the situation," Trudeau said. Fighting needs to stop both in Gaza and in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, he said, where violence is also increasing.

Clashes in the region are making it harder to "get back on track to a two-state solution," he said, referring to Canada's policy to encourage, as Global Affairs Canada puts it, "the creation of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel."

"This is what we need to get to," the prime minister said.

Trudeau made his remarks as foreign ministers of the G7 released a statement demanding that "all parties" permit "unimpeded humanitarian support" to enter Gaza, ranging from medical supplies to water and food.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly was in Tokyo this week meeting with her counterparts, who also collectively urged that humanitarian pauses were needed.

Winnipeg Liberal MP Benn Carr characterized Trudeau's remarks as a reaction to the "very strong need for critical aid to flow into Gaza right now and for (Israel's prime minister) to recognize that there is a necessity at this moment in time for a humanitarian pause that does not detract from Israel's ability and need to deal with the threat that is Hamas."

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed openness to allowing brief pauses in the war, he has outright rejected agreeing to a larger ceasefire until Hamas frees more than 200 Israeli hostages.

Conservative MP Marty Morantz also urged that Canada must be "unequivocal" in calling for their release.

"You can't say it enough," he said Wednesday.

"That should be the number 1 priority of this government in terms of its foreign policy position, as it relates to the situation in Gaza."

On Wednesday afternoon, MPs unanimously adopted a motion from Liberal MP Anthony Housefather saying the House of Commons "unequivocally rejects and condemns the heinous terrorist attacks against Israel by terrorist organization Hamas" and "demands that Hamas unconditionally and immediately release all hostages, regardless of nationality, that it kidnapped during its attacks."

Trudeau's government faced a renewed push to demand a formal ceasefire in the region on Wednesday, this time from Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet.

Speaking in French, Blanchet told the House of Commons during question period that Israel had not lived up to the international community's trust that it would act with restraint when it comes to civilians in the Gaza Strip. He said thousands have "needlessly" died.

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has also pressed Canada to advocate for a more lasting end to the fighting, and more than 20 Liberal MPs signed an open letter last month asking that Canada call for a ceasefire.

Salma Zahid, a Liberal MP who helped organize the letter, said she's going through a difficult time seeing the civilian death toll rise.

"Day by day, hour by hour, it's becoming difficult to see the loss of these innocent civilians."

The Tories have previously rejected calls for a formal ceasefire, with foreign affairs critic Michael Chong saying last month that Israel has a right to continue to defend itself.

Prominent humanitarian groups and advocates for Palestinians have urged Canada to push for a ceasefire instead of temporary pauses.

Sarah Saleh, a member of the Palestinian Youth Movement, said Trudeau's Wednesday comments were "a weak attempt to show himself as a humanitarian" without addressing Israeli policies that oppress Palestinians.

Danny Glenwright, the Canadian head of Save the Children, said pauses won't be enough to deliver the volume of essential supplies, including anesthesia, water and food, that are needed as the humanitarian crisis deepens.

"Without an immediate ceasefire, there is no way to get fuel to run the machines to rescue the ... children who right now are trapped under the rubble," he told reporters Tuesday.

"We will make history as a world that stood by, while this happens on our watch."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 8, 2023.

— With files from The Associated Press and Dylan Robertson in Ottawa.

Stephanie Taylor and Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press