Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said Canada is closely watching for a potential deal on Tuesday between Israel and Hamas to release hostages, as both sides suggest an announcement might be imminent.
“What we expect from this deal is we want to make sure that all hostages are released, that all foreign nationals are allowed to get out of Gaza — including, of course, the around 200 Canadians that are still in Gaza,” Joly said Tuesday morning.
She told reporters on Parliament Hill that there were positive signs, but noted that difficult negotiations have been ongoing for weeks.
“Our objective right now is that finally, humanitarian pauses (will be) allowed to happen, and we think that this potential deal could lead to a form of, eventually, a ceasefire.”
The temporary ceasefire deal could bring the first pause in fighting in a devastating six-week war. The conflict started Oct. 7 when Hamas militants killed an estimated 1,200 people in Israel and captured roughly 240 hostages.
Senior Hamas official Izzat Rishq predicted a Qatari-mediated deal could be reached in “the coming hours,” in which Hamas would release captives and Israel would release Palestinian prisoners, though similar predictions in recent weeks have proven premature.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to convene top decision-makers Tuesday to discuss the matter. “We are advancing,” he told troops during a visit to a training base. “I hope there will be good news soon.”
Joly told reporters in Ottawa that she spoke about a possible hostage deal with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week, and that she discussed it on Tuesday morning with her Qatari counterpart.
“We are still calling for humanitarian pauses, a humanitarian truce, which would lead to a potential ceasefire.”
Global Affairs Canada has said one Canadian is missing in the region, but it will not confirm if it believes that person is held hostage by Hamas. Washington this past weekend hinted that at least one Canadian is among the hostages — a detail that Ottawa has not confirmed.
Israel’s army widened its military operations Tuesday across northern Gaza, part of a retaliation campaign that the territory’s health officials say has killed more than 12,700 people.
Meanwhile, no Canadians were added Tuesday to a list of foreign nationals approved to cross into Egypt from Gaza.
Ottawa says more than 450 Canadians, permanent residents and their relatives have made the trip out of the Palestinian territory since the conflict began.
After Israel declared war on Hamas, it began an airstrike campaign and cut off food, fuel, water and supplies to the Gaza Strip, with the exception of occasional deliveries of humanitarian aid.
At a Tuesday briefing for international media, Col. Elad Goren, a spokesman for Israel military activities in Gaza, said that more than 1,400 trucks of humanitarian aid have entered Gaza since the first were allowed on Oct. 21, and that more could come if unspecified logistical issues are rectified.
The UN agency for Palestinians, called UNWRA, says that before the current war about 100 trucks would enter Gaza daily, where more than 60 per cent of the population relies on the agency’s help. Since the war, Israeli officials have inspected all trucks entering Gaza to prevent Hamas from accessing more weapons.
“Our security mechanisms have the capability and the capacity to significantly increase the number of trucks entering Gaza, dependent on the improvement of the UN’s and other international organizations’ logistics,” Goren said.
“We are willing to increase dramatically the number of trucks, as the UN and the Egyptians will give us their priorities and their needs.”
Late Monday evening, Joly condemned violence against Palestinians in the West Bank by Israeli settlers, who live in communities that violate international law.
As Israel launched its war against Hamas in Gaza, it also closed off the West Bank, with Israeli officials raiding towns, imposing curfews and arresting teenagers. The Associated Press says detainees have been beaten, and Jewish vigilantes have stormed villages.
The United Nations says Israeli settler attacks have surged at an unprecedented rate, while health authorities say settlers have killed nine Palestinians.
“Canada strongly condemns the extremist settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank and is also gravely concerned by reports of Palestinian communities being forcibly removed from their lands in the West Bank,” reads a statement issued by Global Affairs Canada on Monday.
“Canada, along with partners, calls on the government of Israel to take immediate action to stop such further occurrences of extremist settler violence, protect the Palestinian population, and hold those responsible for the violence accountable under the law.
The statement says the violence impedes progress toward a two-state solution where Israel and a Palestinian state exist as peaceful, autonomous countries. Israel says it has control over the territory, and foreign ministry spokesman Alex Gandler seemed to downplay Joly’s concerns on Tuesday.
“Israel has full control of everything that is happening inside of Israel. We’re currently in a situation of war as well,” he said, in response to Joly’s statement. “There is no extremist violence that is currently (occurring) to our knowledge.”
Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 21, 2023.
— With files from The Associated Press