Global Affairs Canada ready for 'further crossings daily' out of Gaza Strip

TORONTO — The federal government says it expects the flow of foreign nationals leaving the war-torn Gaza Strip to Egypt will continue in the coming days, even as Canadians had been warned that their safety could not be guaranteed if they chose to make the trip.

Global Affairs Canada said Wednesday night that it was aware of reports that one Canadian citizen was able to leave the Palestinian territory at the Rafah border crossing with the help of a third party, but offered no further information.

A list of those allowed out published Wednesday 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.

"Canada has one of the largest contingents of nationals in Gaza," said the statement from the department, which had noted countries on the initial list had fewer citizens in the territory. "We expect further crossings daily over the coming days."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for all Canadians 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 in Ottawa.

"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."

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said she had heard there could be another opportunity on Thursday, although she did not say whether that would include Canadians.

"There seems to be an agreement. We'll see whether it holds, because things are very fluid," Joly said in French after giving a speech to the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations. "There are a few nationals who came out today. I hear that there could be more tomorrow, so that's why I'm in contact with my Israeli, Egyptian and also Qatari counterparts."

Meanwhile, the daughter of a Canadian stuck in Gaza said her father has been warned that the federal government cannot guarantee the safety of Canadians who might try to enter Egypt.

Dalia Salim, a resident of London, Ont., who is trying to get her 66-year-old Canadian father out of Gaza, shared an email she said the family received that was sent to people registered with Global Affairs Canada for updates.

"The decision to cross via Rafah is yours to take and the government of Canada cannot guarantee your safety and security," said the email, which addressed reports that foreign nationals would soon be permitted to leave.

"Canadian consular services will try to assist you as best they can on the Egyptian side but Canada does not have representatives at, or near, the border," it added.

The email asks Canadians to phone the general line for the Cairo embassy, which outside of operating hours uses an automated directory to refer citizens in need to a global emergency line in Ottawa.

Global Affairs Canada did not respond to questions about the email or its contents, including whether it is authentic. It also did not say why consular officials are not near Rafah.

"We are in regular contact and continually try to reach all Canadians in Gaza to check in with them and give them the latest information available," the department said in its update Wednesday evening.

"We have plans in place to receive Canadians, permanent residents and family members once they cross Rafah, to provide any support necessary, including documentation and onward travel to Canada."

Salim called communications from the Canadian government disorganized. She 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 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."

Liberal MP Rob Oliphant, the parliamentary secretary to Joly, said Wednesday that consular staff have been working around the clock, but sometimes they cannot reach Canadians due to internet-connectivity issues in Gaza.

Mansour Shouman, a Canadian in Gaza with his wife and five children, said he couldn't understand why Canada 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.

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

Global Affairs Canada also said Wednesday it has helped 65 citizens, permanent residents and eligible family members leave the West Bank, another Palestinian territory, since the conflict began. It said it is in touch with 49 people who are still there, as well as 459 people in Gaza and 38 in Israel.

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 Nasser, 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," Nasser 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."

Nasser 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.

Following a speech in Toronto on Wednesday evening, the prime minister met privately with Palestinian Canadians who have relatives in Gaza.

Reem Sultan, who has extended family in the besieged enclave and was at the Trudeau meeting, told reporters that participants were urging the government to press for "the safe evacuation of our families trapped in Gaza."

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. Since 2007, Gaza has been controlled by Hamas, which Canada considers a terrorist organization. Over half the territory's population has fled their homes, and supplies of food, medicine, water and fuel are running low.

The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza says the Palestinian death toll in the Israel-Hamas war has reached 8,805. In the occupied West Bank, 130 Palestinians have been killed in violence and Israeli raids.

More than 1,400 people in Israel have been killed, most of them civilians slain in the initial Oct. 7 attack by Hamas. In addition, around 240 hostages were taken from Israel into Gaza by the militant group.

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

— With files from Dylan Robertson in Ottawa and the Associated Press

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version named a Canadian in Gaza as Mahmoud Saleh. In fact, his name is Mahmoud Nasser.