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A bus carrying Canadian nationals recently evacuated from the Gaza Strip prepares to depart the Rafah crossing on Nov. 12 in Rafah, Egypt.Ali Moustafa/Getty Images

A total of 234 Canadians, permanent residents and their family members crossed into Egypt from Gaza on Sunday, the largest number to leave the territory since Israel declared war following Hamas’s attack on Oct. 7.

Global Affairs Canada reported the departures in a statement on Sunday, after the Rafah border crossing opened following a two-day closing, allowing more than 800 foreign nationals to pass through the only crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

Among the Canadians to leave was 73-year-old London, Ont., resident Akbar Alsabbagh, who made the trek by foot, bus and car from Gaza City in the north to attempt the crossing on Thursday, but was unable to leave until Sunday afternoon.

“It’s excitement and sorrow,” his daughter, Samah Alsabbagh, said in a phone interview from London, Ont., as her father’s bus was still making its way to Cairo. “He said, ‘I can’t believe I’m finally leaving – and I can’t believe I’m going to be leaving everyone behind.’ ”

Ms. Alsabbagh added that her uncle, who lives in Gaza and made the trip to the south to ensure his brother was safe, stayed behind even after Global Affairs confirmed he was also on the list to cross the border. He would not leave his wife and children, she said.

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Palestinians with Canadian passports who were evacuated from Gaza react on a bus after crossing through the Rafah border crossing from the Egyptian side on November 12.HADEER MAHMOUD/Reuters

At the outset of the war, Canadians accounted for one of the largest groups of foreign nationals in Gaza.

Global Affairs said it is continuing to support 107 people who crossed the Rafah border into Egypt last week. Also, the department said it is aware of nine Canadian citizens who have crossed the Rafah border with a third party, but, owing to privacy considerations, is not in a position to share further information.

Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing approximately 1,200 people and abducting more than 240 others. In the weeks since, Israel has been bombarding Gaza, imposed a blockade on essentials such as food, fuel and water into the territory, and launched a ground invasion. More than 11,000 people have been killed in Gaza, two-thirds of them women and minors, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in its figures.

On Sunday, demonstrators gathered at dozens of rallies across Canada calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

What ‘ceasefire’ and ‘humanitarian pauses’ mean in the Israel-Hamas war

One of the protests, organized by the group Ceasefire Now, convened at Toronto’s City Hall and called for an end to the blockade in Gaza and for humanitarian aid to be restored to the region. Attendees chanted appeals for a ceasefire.

Without it, there will be “more death, and lives are disappearing,” rally attendee Nida Baig said in an interview. “It’s a humanity issue. It’s not about sides. We’re parents and I feel more connected to it because as a mother, babies being killed is not okay.”

At another rally in Toronto’s Christie Pits Park, organized by the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, a Jewish group, the crowd booed at the mention of Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow’s call for a ceasefire in the war, and chanted “Bring them home,” referring to the Israeli hostages still in Gaza. The park holds historical significance for Jewish Canadians, marking the spot where violence erupted between Jews and anglo-Canadians in the 1933 Christie Pits riot, set off by a swastika flag unfurled by Nazi-inspired youth.

Maayan Shavit spoke about her aunt, 68-year-old Kinneret Gat, who was murdered by Hamas attackers in Kibbutz Be’eri on Oct. 7, and other family members who were abducted and taken to Gaza.

“They are running out of time,” Ms. Shavit said of the hostages. “We, as Canadians, want to be on the right side of history. … Our government can do it by encouraging the release of the hostages, all of them, my family included.”

The United Nations and the World Health Organization have called for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has thus far joined the U.S. and others in calling for a temporary pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas to allow for humanitarian relief in Gaza and for hostages to be freed.

Reem Sultan, a pharmacist in London, Ont., worries for her many relatives in Gaza. They are not Canadian citizens, and do not qualify for evacuation at this time. She spoke with an aunt on Sunday, who told her they are struggling to find food and water.

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There are also many Canadians in Gaza still waiting to leave, Ms. Sultan said. Her friend, Dr. Ehab Bader, is not included on the list of Canadians approved to leave, she said, and his wife in Canada is submitting paperwork to allow him to evacuate and to bring family members with him.

“We feel our government has failed us,” Ms. Sultan said.

“Canada continues to engage all relevant parties to ensure that Canadian citizens, permanent residents and their eligible family members presently in Gaza can exit safely and promptly,” the statement from Global Affairs Canada said on Sunday.

Of those who have crossed, the department said, “Our embassy in Cairo is currently providing them consular assistance, food, accommodations and some basic necessities as they plan their onward travel.”

The department added that it is communicating with Canadians in Gaza on a continuing basis, asking them to be prepared to travel on short notice and to have travel documents ready. “As the situation is quite fluid and unpredictable, Canadians should be prepared for significant delays and unexpected closures at the Rafah border,” said the statement.

Jewish and Muslim communities in Canada have seen an increase in hate-related incidents in recent weeks, which appear to be connected to the war between Israel and Hamas.

On Sunday, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said police were investigating after a Jewish school was hit by gunshots, one of two schools that were also targeted in overnight shootings just three days earlier. The early-morning incident at the Yeshiva Gedola school appears to be the latest in a string of hateful acts in the city, with Montreal police investigating two firebombings last week that caused minor damage to a synagogue and an office belonging to Jewish advocacy group Federation CJA.

Reports of hate crimes surged in Montreal in the month after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack and Israel’s retaliatory strikes in Gaza. Of those reports, more than 40 referred to alleged crimes targeting Jewish people, and 14 reports were related to alleged crimes against Arab-Muslim communities, according to Montreal police. Those numbers significantly outpace the usual rate of reported hate incidents in Montreal, according to data from Statistics Canada.

The Toronto Police Service also saw a rise in reported hate crimes last month, with 15 reported antisemitic incidents and five targeting Muslims between Oct. 7 and Oct. 25. During the same period last year, there were seven and zero such reports, respectively. An Ottawa man was arrested near Toronto this weekend after he was allegedly caught on video inciting hatred and expressing antisemitic views.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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