Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Smoke plumes billow during Israeli air strikes in Gaza City on Oct. 12, as raging battles between Israel and Hamas continue for the sixth consecutive day.MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images

On the day Ottawa began evacuating Canadians from Tel Aviv, Ehab Bader woke up on the floor of a Gaza City school wondering when his government might also come for him.

Two weeks ago, the pediatrician from London, Ont., said goodbye to his wife and three daughters – aged 16, 9 and 7 – and travelled to Gaza to care for his ailing parents, both nearing 80.

He saw family, met friends, even pulled a few shifts in the neonatal intensive-care unit of the local hospital.

“Everything was fine, then everything changed on Saturday,” he said by phone from Gaza, occasionally raising his voice to talk over nearby explosions.

That was the day Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, launched a series of devastating attacks on military and civilian targets in Israel that killed more than 1,300 people and left at least 3,300 wounded.

Israel’s retaliatory bombing strikes have levelled entire city blocks in Gaza City, reducing apartment towers as high as 15 storeys to rubble, Dr. Bader said.

“There is bombing everywhere in all directions,” he said. “We have no access to news. All we hear are the sounds of war. It is 24 hours a day. We don’t sleep.”'

Mélanie Joly planning Israel trip as evacuation flights begin, number of missing Canadians grows

Israel-Hamas war: The Canadians killed and missing during the attacks

He’s now one of 475 Canadians in Gaza and the West Bank who have registered with the Department of Global Affairs and have no safe way out. Crossings from both areas have been closed, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and all travel in the region is discouraged.

Electricity, water and internet have been cut off throughout Gaza, leaving Dr. Bader’s family back home in London scrambling for details on his well-being, an agonizingly common experience among Canadians with Palestinian ties as the Israeli bombardment continues.

Both the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross have warned of a pending humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Israeli strikes have killed more than 1,500 and wounded more than 6,600, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. Around 300,000 people are homeless. Food and water supplies remain precarious.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged $10-million in humanitarian assistance for Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Global Affairs Canada said it is exploring any possible evacuation opportunities.

Officials said that roughly 1,600 individuals have asked for Canada’s help leaving the region. That includes roughly 800 people in Israel, 180 in the West Bank and at least 100 in Gaza. The other 520 people seeking help are in the region, but Global Affairs does not know whether they are in Israel or either of the Palestinian territories.

They said Canada’s ambassador in Israel has asked for the country’s help in getting citizens out.

In an e-mail to The Globe and Mail, Global Affairs Canada said it is exploring other assisted departure options for those in the West Bank and Gaza, including ground travel across the border to Jordan.

On Thursday, Washington publicly urged Israel to allow for a corridor for humanitarian aid. It said it is in touch with countries that speak with Hamas, asking them to push for the same.

In a background briefing, officials said Canada is working with the UN and others.

Dr. Bader has been working in the hospital, where the sporadic electricity and diminishing supplies make quality care impossible.

“We receive the casualties 24 hours a day at the hospital, including a lot of kids,” he said. “But we don’t have drugs or gauze or needles because we have been under siege. The hospital was using a generator to generate electricity, but it won’t start because gas has stopped arriving.”

Israelis near Lebanon border fear a widening war if Hezbollah attacks

Blinken calls on Israel to minimize civilian deaths ahead of expected ground invasion of Gaza

Thousands of Gazans have received Israeli notifications to evacuate targeted buildings. More than 222,000 people, including Dr. Bader, have taken shelter at around 90 schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, according to the organization. “People think this is safe here,” he said. “It’s not. Another school right beside it was destroyed a few days ago with people inside.”

Even if Dr. Bader could leave, he’s not sure he would want to abandon his parents. But he has a message for Ottawa. “I would simply like our government – all governments – to see us as human,” he said. “To support citizens on both sides.”

In Canada, relatives of Gazans are logging sleepless nights checking newsfeeds, and waiting for calls and texts from Gaza, where simply recharging a cellphone and finding internet service pose logistical challenges. The scarce updates they receive are often dire.

Helmi Alfarra, a Canadian living in Saint John, says his parents and siblings are trapped in Khan Yunis, a city in the southern Gaza Strip that has been under heavy bombing.

After four agonizing days without being able to communicate with his family, he eventually heard from them on Wednesday night. His cousin-in-law had been killed by the bombings, along with two children, a boy and a girl.

“Nothing is guaranteed in Gaza right now,” he said.

Msllam Fayadh said his 60-year-old Canadian mother arrived in Gaza roughly a week before the attacks to visit a sick father. She’s now trapped in Khan Yunis.

“We’re very concerned. We don’t know if she’s going to be alive,” said Mr. Fayadh, who lives in Mississauga.

Mr. Fayadh says his mother is waiting for help from the Canadian government, but that assistance has so far only come for those in Israel. “Nothing is happening for people in Gaza, the Canadians over there,” he said. “There are no initiatives or any specific plan from the government – no date, nothing.”

Because his family aren’t Canadian, Mr. Alfarra fears he has limited recourse with the government.

Reem Sultan, a pharmacist in London, Ont., counts at least 250 relatives in the Palestinian territories.

“I just want people to be allowed to drink and eat, that’s it,” she said, adding that several family members received warnings to leave their homes on Friday. Some are now staying at school shelters run by the United Nations relief agency. Others are searching for less packed accommodation.

“I spend every hour waiting for bad news,” she said. “Waiting to hear someone is dead.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article stated incorrectly that Helmi Alfarra's brother-in-law had been killed by bombings in Gaza. The victim was his cousin-in-law. This version has been updated.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

Follow the authors of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

Check Following for new articles

Interact with The Globe