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Palestinians gather around the remains of a house that police said was destroyed in an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on July 14.

Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters

As the Palestinian death toll – including women and children – mounts in Gaza, Canada's backing for Israel remains unshakeable.

No ally of the Jewish state has been more strident in its support of Israel than Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"Canada is unequivocally behind Israel," Mr. Harper said on Sunday hours after Israeli warplanes bombed a house in Gaza, killing 18 civilian members of an extended family including five children, but missing Taysir Al-Batsh, the police chief in the Palestinian enclave and intended target.

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In a statement released Sunday, Mr. Harper said "it is evident that Hamas is deliberately using human shields to further terror," and repeated his unqualified backing of Israeli air strikes in retaliation "against these terror attacks."

As hostilities spilled into a second week, the death toll topped 175, all of them Palestinian so far, and an international chorus of calls for a ceasefire grew.

Hundreds of missiles have been fired into Israel by Hamas and other Palestinian militants. Hundreds of air strikes by Israeli warplanes have struck targets in Gaza.

As President Barack Obama was offering to mediate and urging both sides to avoid escalation, the message from Ottawa was decidedly different.

Canada's policy isn't new. Since Mr. Harper became primes minister in 2006, the Conservative government sharply shifted Canada's position on Israel from willing peace broker to unabashed ally.

As Foreign Minister John Baird proudly asserts: "Our support for Israel hasn't always won us popularity contests at the UN."

In fact, the Tories' unwavering support for Israel likely cost Canada its latest bid for a Security Council seat, the first time ever Canada has lost a stint on the UN's highest body.

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"We will not apologize for the positions we take, because we stand for what is right," Mr. Baird, the keynote speaker at the American Jewish Congress, said to appreciative applause in May.

Just as the Harper government has staked out a far-tougher stand against Iran than the Obama administration, so Ottawa and Washington are increasingly out of step on Mideast peace policy.

The Harper government isn't shy about denouncing others for failing to see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the way it does.

In fact, the toughest element of Mr. Harper's message on Sunday on the current round of violence was directed not at the warring parties but toward other countries. "Failure by the international community to condemn these reprehensible actions [by Hamas] would encourage these terrorists to continue their appalling actions," Canada's Prime Minister said, adding; "Terrorist acts are unacceptable and that solidarity with Israel is the best way of stopping the conflict."

But unlike the United States which provides about $3-billion (U.S.) annually to Israel in weapons, and munitions, including the much-vaunted Iron Dome anti-missile shield currently intercepting scores of Hamas-fired missiles daily, Canada's unequivocal backing doesn't include tangible support.

In fact, Mr. Harper's statement was stunningly candid in terms of what Ottawa would do to back Israel.

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"We support its right to defend itself, by itself," Mr. Harper said.

Relations between Mr. Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been decidedly less warm than Mr. Harper's friendship with the Israeli leader.

That was reflected in Mr. Obama's double-barrelled message last week about the Mideast violence. "The President reiterated the United States' strong condemnation of continuing rocket fire into Israel by Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza and reaffirmed Israel's right to defend itself against these attacks," the White House said, adding: "The President expressed concern about the risk of further escalation and emphasized the need for all sides to do everything they can to protect the lives of civilians and restore calm."

Notably, those mid-crisis comments followed a prominent piece that President Obama wrote for the Israeli daily Haaretz, in which he made clear his view that in Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas "Israel has a counterpart committed to a two-state solution and security co-operation with Israel."

Even as Mr. Obama assured Israelis that "neither I nor the United States will ever waver in our commitment to the security of Israel and the Israeli people" and said military and intelligence support was at an all-time high, he also made clear that there was far more to the relationship.

"While walls and missile defence systems can help protect against some threats, true safety will only come with a comprehensive negotiated settlement," Mr. Obama said. "Reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians would also help turn the tide of international sentiment and sideline violent extremists."

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That was the sort of measured approach, albeit from a superpower with the means and the leverage to deliver, that was previously emblematic of successive Canadian governments when confronted with international crisis.

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