Skip to main content
  • People grieve for loved ones who were killed in an Israeli airstrike during a funeral in Khan Younis, in southern Gaza.YOUSEF MASOUD/The New York Times News Service

    1 of 18

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday called for a temporary pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas to allow for humanitarian relief in Gaza and for hostages to be freed, joining a growing chorus of leaders urging a break in hostilities.

The new stance from Canada, which has aligned itself closely with Israel in the conflict, came as the UN compared the Gaza aid deliveries made so far with a drop in the ocean and warned the fuel supplies in the enclave will run out within a matter of days.

“We’re calling for humanitarian corridors and we are open to – and support – the idea of humanitarian pauses to allow access to necessary resources for civilians,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters after a three-hour cabinet meeting in Ottawa.

“We must remain rooted in the need to protect innocent people and free hostages,” he said.

Israel-Hamas war: Live updates

The Prime Minister’s comments came amid a rush of diplomacy as leaders around the world seek to get aid to civilians in Gaza and prevent the Israel-Hamas war from snowballing into a broader, regional conflict.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also called for “humanitarian pauses” at a Tuesday meeting of the UN Security Council, where he urged all council members to contain the conflict.

“Palestinian civilians are not to blame for the carnage committed by Hamas,” Mr. Blinken said, referring to the militant group’s killing, torture and abduction of Israelis in a one-day rampage through the Jewish state’s communities near Gaza.

The United Nations and the World Health Organization both called for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in separate statements on Tuesday.

Humanitarian pauses are much more limited in scope than ceasefires.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, who is on her second tour through the region since the war broke out on Oct. 7, added in a post on social media that the pause was needed to allow for Canadians to leave Gaza. Between 300 and 400 Canadians, permanent residents, and their families have registered with Global Affairs for help to leave the besieged territory.

“A civilian is a civilian. We need more humanitarian aid entering Gaza, and for Canadians to be able to exit,” she said from the United Arab Emirates. “We are calling for humanitarian pauses on hostilities to be considered.”

Spain, the Netherlands, Ireland, Slovenia and Luxembourg have already publicly backed the idea of a humanitarian pause.

Just hours before Mr. Trudeau made the comments, Defence Minister Bill Blair said Hamas needs to be eliminated – something the Prime Minister did not repeat on Tuesday. Mr. Blair also suggested a ceasefire would be one-sided.

“I have no expectation that a terrorist organization would respect international law or any call for ceasefire,” Mr. Blair said.

Canada has designated Hamas a terrorist group, as have many other Western countries.

The militant group did not respect past ceasefire agreements, according to a letter Israel submitted to the UN during the 2014 conflict with Hamas.

Mr. Trudeau has been under growing pressure from within and outside his governing party to go even further and call for a ceasefire as the destruction and civilian suffering in Gaza mounts. Nearly a sixth of the Prime Minister’s own MPs have asked him to call for a ceasefire, as has his minority government’s supporters in Parliament, the NDP.

On Tuesday, the Official Opposition Conservatives supported Mr. Trudeau’s call for a humanitarian pause, saying it was needed to allow foreign nationals to leave and to bring aid in.

However, Conservative MP Michael Chong said the temporary pause does not detract from Israel’s right to defend itself and said the “temporary pauses must be respected by all.”

According to the United Nations, a humanitarian pause refers to a temporary stop in hostilities only for humanitarian purposes. The international organization said such a pause has to be agreed to by all parties, be over a limited period of time and cover a defined geographic area.

A ceasefire is intended to be long-term and covers the entire area of a conflict. The goal of such an end to fighting is to find a permanent political solution, the UN said.

The United States vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for a humanitarian pause on Oct. 18, partly because it hoped on-the-ground diplomacy would solve the problem faster, and partly because the resolution, put forward by Brazil, did not mention the right of Israel to defend itself.

At Tuesday’s White House press briefing, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. believes that a “general ceasefire” benefits Hamas, but that a humanitarian pause is “not the same.”

The Israeli embassy in Ottawa did not respond to a request for comment on Mr. Trudeau’s calls.

Shimon Koffler Fogel, chief executive of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, a Canadian-based advocacy group, suggested a humanitarian pause of a few hours could be warranted to give “much needed relief to the Palestinian civilian population.”

“However, great care must be exercised to ensure Hamas does not exploit the pause,” he said.

Calls for a ceasefire are interpreted by some as a denial of Israel’s right to defend itself. Given that, Roland Paris, who was previously a foreign policy and defence adviser to Mr. Trudeau, said the calls for humanitarian pauses show countries trying to balance competing needs.

“Canada and the United States are trying to thread the needle between upholding Israel’s right to self-defence and creating space for the delivery of humanitarian emergency supplies to civilians in Gaza,” said Prof. Paris, now the director of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa.

The issue took centre stage at the UN Security Council on Tuesday where representatives from Israel and the Palestinian Authority were also present.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres opened the meeting with a warning that the “situation in the Middle East is growing more dire by the hour.”

“The war in Gaza is raging and risks spiralling throughout the region,” he said. “Divisions are splintering societies. Tensions threaten to boil over.”

Amid those concerns, Mr. Blinken told the Security Council on Tuesday that he will work with Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi to prevent the conflict from spreading when they meet later this week.

Mr. Wang is set to arrive in Washington on Thursday. U.S. officials want Beijing to use its influence with Iran and other countries in the Middle East to help prevent the conflict from spreading.

China has been ramping up its diplomatic engagement in the Middle East. Mr. Wang spoke Monday with his counterparts from Israel and the Palestinian Authority and urged a de-escalation of the crisis, emphasizing Beijing’s support for the Palestinian cause and a two-state solution.

With reports from James Griffiths, The Canadian Press, Reuters and Associated Press

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe