Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly says Canada would like to see a “de-escalation” in the conflict between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, but is stopping short of calling for a ceasefire.
Joly did not specify what a de-escalation looks like but did say Canada fully backs Israel’s right to defend itself “in accordance with international law.”
She says there are concerns about the conflict expanding and that Canada believes long-term peace in the region requires renewed talks toward a two-state solution.
Joly says Canada has a role to play to renewing those conversations and that is one of the reasons she is currently in the Middle East.
She spent the weekend in Cairo at a gathering billed as a peace summit and is in the United Arab Emirates today meeting with her counterparts there.
“We have long-standing position that Israel and the region would benefit from a two-state solution,” said Joly.
“We have a long-standing position that in all conflicts at all times civilians must be protected. And so based on these long-standing positions, I think that Canada is in a good position to be able to work on different ways to address the political dialogue that is necessary mid-term and long-term to achieve peace and stability. I think we should never be scared about talking about peace.”
Calls for a ceasefire have been adding up over the last week, particularly since a deadly strike at a hospital in Gaza City on Oct. 17. On Saturday, Defence Minister Bill Blair said Canadian military intelligence concluded, based on evidence of the blast damage at the hospital and the flight pattern of the incoming munition, that the rocket was fired from within Gaza, not from Israel.
That finding concurred with earlier statements by Israel, the United States and France.
The blast happened nine days after a renewed conflict in the region was sparked by an assault by Hamas militants in Israel and a response by Israel in the Gaza Strip.
Israel says more than 1,400 people were killed in the original Hamas attack on Oct. 7, at least 4,500 were injured and more than 200 people were taken hostage. Palestinian authorities say more than 5,000 Palestinians have been killed in the days since.
Canada immediately threw its support behind Israel following the attack but has also called for civilian lives in Gaza to be protected and international law to be upheld.
Last week more than 30 MPs, including 23 Liberals, wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking him to push for a ceasefire, citing violations of international law.
Some other Liberal MPs have said a ceasefire is complicated because Hamas is a designated terrorist organization according to the Canadian government.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was not among the eight NDP MPs who signed that letter, but on Monday he wrote to Trudeau asking for an urgent meeting to discuss the issue.
Joly would not use the word “ceasefire” in her response to multiple questions about why Canada has not called for one. She said Canada is concerned about the situation in Gaza, which she has repeatedly said is “the worst place on Earth to be living” right now.
“I think it’s important that we send a clear message of de-escalation, but also that we are able to talk about peace and stability,” she said.
Trudeau spoke Sunday with leaders from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy. An official summary of that conversation also did not mention a ceasefire.
It said the leaders “reiterated their support for Israel and its right to defend itself against terrorism and called for adherence to international humanitarian law including the protection of civilians.”
Three convoys of humanitarian aid have made their way into Gaza since Saturday from Egypt. They carried food, fuel, water and medical supplies, all of which are in dire need because Israel has cut off access to electricity, water, food and aide.
The leaders also called for the immediate release of all hostages. Canada has not confirmed whether two Canadians who have been missing since the Hamas attack are among the hostages.
Six Canadians have been confirmed killed in Israel during the attack.
Hamas was designated a terrorist organization by Canada in 2002 and as such Canadian authorities will not engage directly with Hamas.
Blair said he was unaware of a deal Monday, reportedly brokered by Qatar, for Hamas to free 50 dual nationals.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 23, 2023.