No Canadians among hundreds of foreigners preparing to exit Gaza Strip

No Canadians among hundreds of foreigners preparing to exit Gaza Strip
Palestinians cross to Rafah on the Egyptian side of the border with Gaza Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023. No Canadian citizens have been included in a list of more than 400 foreign nationals who would be permitted to leave Gaza for the first time since Israel launched its retaliatory war on Hamas militants more than three weeks ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Hatem Ali

No Canadians were on a list of more than 400 foreign nationals permitted to leave Gaza on Wednesday for the first time since the Israel-Hamas war began, raising questions about what Canada was doing to help citizens stuck in the besieged Palestinian enclave.

An agreement appeared to have been reached to allow certain foreign passport holders, along with some wounded individuals, to leave via the Rafah border crossing for Egypt. A list published by the General Authority for Border Crossings in Gaza included citizens of Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Japan and Jordan – but not Canada.

In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government was calling for its citizens to be allowed out.

“We of course continue to unequivocally condemn Hamas’s abhorrent terrorism and Israel has the right to defend itself, but the price of justice cannot be the continued suffering of all Palestinian civilians,” he said.

“We’re calling (for) the liberation of hostages, on aid to flow in and on Canadians and their families to get out of Gaza through the Rafah crossing.”

Mansour Shouman, a Canadian in Gaza with his wife and five children, said he couldn’t understand why Ottawa appeared to be so far behind several other countries.

“Shame on them,” he said of the Canadian government in a phone call, as the sounds of sirens and people scrambling could be heard in the background while he sheltered at a hospital in southern Gaza.

“This is not the Canadian government that we elected that supports human rights. They’ve been very active in evacuating Israeli-Canadians since the first day. History will not forget what they are doing.”

Shouman called on Canadians to pressure Ottawa to help evacuate citizens faster from Gaza and speak up against the war.

Ottawa organized evacuation flights from Israel last month for Canadian citizens, permanent residents and eligible family members.

Global Affairs Canada has also said it has helped 65 citizens, permanent residents and eligible family members leave the West Bank, another Palestinian territory, since the conflict began, and it is in touch with 70 people who are still there.

Shouman, who was born in Gaza, lived in Calgary for more than a decade and became a Canadian citizen in 2006, moved back to Gaza three years ago. He said he is hoping his wife and children will be able to evacuate, while he remains behind.

“I cannot leave the Palestinian people here going through what they’re going through,” he said.

Mahmoud Saleh, a Canadian citizen in Gaza with his pregnant wife, said he was disappointed in his government and wanted to leave as soon as he could.

“I don’t know what they’re waiting for,” Saleh said, adding he has not heard from the Canadian government for more than two weeks.

“Everything is unbelievable. The scenes are insane … everybody’s in tents, there’s no power. There’s a big water problem. It’s insanely dense.”

Saleh said he escaped to a refugee camp two days ago after a bomb dropped 30 metres from the home he was sheltering at and he was hit by shrapnel.

“I was lucky I survived,” he said.

Dalia Salim, a resident of London, Ont., who is trying to get her 66-year-old Canadian father out of Gaza, also questioned why no Canadians were among the first group of foreigners allowed out of the enclave.

“Authorities from the Czech Republic, Finland, Australia, Japan, a few other countries have managed to get their people out,” she said.

“I would have assumed that the moment they announced the border would open, Canada should have had that on their top priority and tried to get their people out.”

Salim, who has been in touch with Global Affairs on behalf of her father, called communications from the Canadian government disorganized and said she was previously receiving emails for evacuations out of Israel, despite her father being in Gaza.

“The process has been very, very, very unorganized. And you’re putting people at risk because of this disorganization,” she said, adding that her father was in Gaza trying to help his elderly mother and was unable to wait indefinitely at the border crossing.

“My dad spends his day trying to find clean water and canned food for the family. That’s literally how he spends his day.”

A spokesperson for the Palestinian Crossings Authority said six buses carrying 335 foreign passport holders left Gaza through the Rafah crossing into Egypt as of mid-afternoon Wednesday. The authority said the plan was for more than 400 foreign passport holders to leave for Egypt.

Gaza, home to 2.3 million people, is in the grip of a severe humanitarian crisis amid the siege imposed since an Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel. Over half the territory’s population has fled their homes, and supplies of food, medicine, water and fuel are running low.

Over the weekend, Israel launched an expanded ground operation in Gaza while stepped-up bombardments knocked out telecom services to most of the territory and created a near-blackout of information in the area.

More than 8,700 Palestinians have been killed in the war, mostly women and minors, and more than 22,000 people have been wounded, the Palestinian Health Ministry said Wednesday, without providing a breakdown between civilians and fighters. The figure is without precedent in decades of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Over 1,400 people have died on the Israeli side, mainly civilians killed during Hamas’s initial attack, also an unprecedented figure. Palestinian militants also abducted around 240 people during their incursion and have continued firing rockets into Israel.

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

With files from the Associated Press. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 1, 2023.

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