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Palestinians look for survivors under the rubble of a destroyed house following an Israeli airstrike in Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Monday, Nov. 13, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Mohammed DahmanMohammed Dahman/The Associated Press

The situation in the Gaza Strip is “heartbreaking,” Canada’s deputy prime minister said Wednesday, the day after Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rebuked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for urging Israel to stop “the killing of women and children, of babies” in the besieged Palestinian territory.

“I think everyone would agree that the humanitarian situation in Gaza is heartbreaking. It’s really difficult to see the images of what’s happening,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters Wednesday in Mascouche, Que.

Freeland, who is also the federal finance minister, had been asked to respond to Netanyahu calling out Trudeau on Tuesday evening. His comments on social media came hours after Trudeau urged Israel’s government to “exercise maximum restraint” in its war against Hamas, which has included regular air strikes in Gaza.

“I have been clear that the price of justice cannot be the continued suffering of all Palestinian civilians. Even wars have rules,” Trudeau said Tuesday in Vancouver.

“We’re hearing the testimonies of doctors, family members, survivors, kids who have lost their parents,” said Trudeau. “The world is witnessing this. The killing of women and children, of babies.”

Israel began its latest war against Hamas, which Canada has listed as a terrorist entity since 2002, after its militants killed 1,200 people in Israel on Oct. 7. That included hundreds of civilians in their homes, in collective farming communities known as kibbutzim and at an outdoor music festival. Another 240 people were taken hostage.

Israel’s retaliation has included air strikes and a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, as well as cutting off access to supplies in the territory, which had already been under a years-long blockade by both Israel and Egypt.

On Wednesday, two more people with ties to Canada made it out of Gaza. Global Affairs Canada says it has helped 358 Canadian citizens, permanent residents and their relatives exit the war-torn territory, while another nine have managed to reach Egypt by other means.

Ottawa says another 386 people connected to Canada are trying to get out of Gaza.

The 2.3 million people who live in the territory are struggling to survive without electricity or running water and are rationing food. The Health Ministry in the Hamas-controlled territory says the war has now killed more than 11,200 Palestinians, two-thirds of them women and children.

Trudeau had referred specifically to the Shifa Hospital, the largest in Gaza, where doctors have said patients were beginning to die as the facility, surrounded by Israeli ground troops, ran out of fuel. Israel views the hospital as a key target, alleging that Hamas has set up its main command centre in and beneath the hospital without providing visual evidence. Both Hamas and hospital staff deny the Israeli allegations.

In his remarks on Tuesday, Trudeau had also said Hamas needs to stop using Palestinians as human shields and release all hostages “immediately and unconditionally.”

He pushed for the violence to end “so that Palestinians can get access to life-saving medical services, food, fuel and water, so that all hostages can be released, so that all Canadians and other nationals can leave Gaza.”

On Wednesday, New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh said Trudeau was being fair in what he said about Israel.

“There should obviously be a full respect for international law and there are deep concerns about that not being followed, and so that’s a fair criticism,” he told reporters in Toronto on Wednesday.

Singh also repeated his demands that Trudeau call for a ceasefire, arguing that would boost Canada’s credibility on the world stage.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s office has not responded to an interview request. But deputy leader Melissa Lantsman decried Singh’s comments as “disgusting” in an Instagram post on Wednesday.

Trudeau has faced increased pressure domestically from the National Council of Canadian Muslims, refugee settlement agencies and MPs – including some Liberals – to call for a ceasefire, in a bid to safely evacuate civilians and deliver humanitarian aid.

Instead, Trudeau has called for “a sustained humanitarian pause” in the bombardments. Israeli officials say a ceasefire would only allow Hamas to prepare more attacks.

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