More Canadians and those with ties to the country left Gaza through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt over the weekend, as fighting in the southern part of the Palestinian territory intensified after the end of a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas.
Global Affairs Canada said approximately 130 Canadians, permanent residents and their family members crossed the border into Egypt on Saturday and Sunday. A total of 165 people with ties to Canada were approved to cross by Gaza’s General Authority for Crossings and Borders, according to a list published Saturday. Roughly half the people on the list were children under the age of 18.
“As the situation is quite fluid and unpredictable, Canadians, permanent residents and their eligible family members should be prepared for significant delays and unexpected closures at the Rafah border crossing,” Global Affairs spokesperson Marilyne Guèvremont said in a statement.
Global Affairs also confirmed the death of an eighth Canadian since the conflict began on Oct. 7. It said the person died in Lebanon, but provided no additional details.
The situation for civilians in Gaza deteriorated over the weekend. After the end to the truce on Friday, the Israeli military pounded targets throughout southern Gaza, while its ground forces advanced toward the city of Khan Younis, some 15 kilometres from the Rafah crossing.
Palestinian residents have been told by the Israeli military to evacuate certain neighbourhoods that have been designated for attack. Many people fled to the southern part of the territory earlier in the conflict, after being ordered to evacuate northern Gaza ahead of the Israeli ground invasion.
Since the start of the conflict, the Canadian government has been working to get Canadian nationals and permanent residents out of the conflict zone. However, this has been a slow process, hampered by closings of the Rafah crossing – the sole exit point from Gaza into Egypt – as well as difficulties getting to the crossing. Ottawa also does not determine who is permitted to enter the border crossing.
“Communications remain difficult with regular blackouts to Gaza’s main telecom services,” Ms. Guèvremont said.
More than 600 people with ties to Canada have crossed from Gaza into Egypt since the conflict began, according to Global Affairs. The department has helped a further 71 people depart from the West Bank.
Huriya Kraira, one of the people who passed through the Rafah crossing on Sunday, said her travels across the border took 12 hours. It “was easy and smooth to cross to Egypt with the help of Global Affairs Canada,” she said in a brief message to The Globe and Mail on social media.
Ola Alanqar, who lives in Toronto, has been begging the federal government to help her elderly parents get out of Gaza. Fouad, 70, and Hanaa, 69, went to visit Gaza from their home in the United Arab Emirates shortly before the conflict broke out. They’ve been stuck there since, moving from apartment to apartment to avoid the fighting, Ms. Alanqar said in an interview. They are currently residing near the Rafah border crossing.
Neither Fouad nor Hanaa are Canadian citizens or permanent residents; they are Palestinian refugees. However, their four children and eight grandchildren are Canadians who live in Toronto.
“We’ve been in touch with Global Affairs since the beginning, since October 7th happened. At first, we were told our parents do not qualify,” Ms. Alanqar said. “Then we got them to tell us, ‘We put their name on the list; it has been flagged in the system.’ But the priority is now given to citizens and people who have Canadian [permanent residence].”
Ms. Guèvremont said that Global Affairs is “facilitating immediate reunification of eligible family members who are not accompanied by a Canadian or a permanent resident in Gaza,” and that “Officers have the tools and authorities necessary to deal with individual vulnerable cases as the need arises.”
Ms. Alanqar said she and her siblings remain in touch with their parents and that the situation on the ground is worsening day by day.
“Since the attacks resumed, there’s no sleep. And even during that so-called humanitarian truce, there hasn’t been any improvement or any change. There is no water, no electricity, the food is really scarce, and medical aid is not available.”
“The more scary part is that when you talk to them, it could be the last time. Everybody there is just awaiting death.”
With reports from David Milstead