The Canadian Armed Forces said Friday it is getting ready for the possibility that it will need to help bring Canadians out of Lebanon, as Israel began evacuating a large town near its own northern border with that country.
Lebanese militant organization Hezbollah, which has a massive arsenal of long-range rockets, has been trading fire with Israel along their shared border since the latest Israel-Hamas war began on Oct. 7.
Hezbollah has also hinted that it might join the war if Israel seeks to annihilate Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007. Israel is widely expected to launch a ground invasion of Gaza as part of its war against Hamas in response to its unprecedented attack on civilians in southern Israel.
Maj.-Gen. Darcy Molstad, deputy commander of the Canadian Joint Operations Command, told reporters in Ottawa on Friday that military officials are in Lebanon, Israel, Cyprus and Greece to prepare for a possible civilian evacuation.
On Wednesday evening, Global Affairs Canada began advising against all travel to Lebanon “due to a deteriorating security situation, civil unrest, the increased risk of terrorist attack and the ongoing armed conflict with Israel.”
Earlier in the week, the federal government had recommended Canadians avoid “non-essential” travel to Lebanon.
Julie Sunday, the assistant deputy minister at Global Affairs Canada in charge of consular cases, said Friday that about 14,500 Canadians are registered with the federal government as being in Lebanon. She said she was pleased that more people in the country have been adding themselves to Canada’s registry.
She urged them to take commercial flights out of the capital city of Beirut while they still can.
“These are really difficult decisions to make, and we understand that. But our best advice is (that) it’s time to come back to Canada,” she told reporters on Friday.
The 16th military flight carrying Canadians and their kin from Tel Aviv to Athens left on Friday, with more planned for Saturday and Sunday.
Officials noted a declining demand for these flights. They urged anyone seeking to get out of Israel to join one of these flights as soon as possible.
Similarly, 33 buses have left the West Bank, a Palestinian territory occupied by Israel, for Jordan, with preparations for more crossings in the coming days.
In total, the Canadian government and military have helped about 1,500 people leave the region.
Meanwhile, Sunday said Ottawa is aware of 430 people in the Gaza Strip who are either Canadians, permanent residents of Canada or their foreign close relatives. She said the situation in Gaza remains “incredibly fluid,” but Canada has not heard of any Canadian deaths inside that Palestinian territory.
It remains unclear whether Canadians and their relatives in Gaza will be able to cross into Egypt, after arrangements for such crossings last weekend fell through for all foreigners in that territory. The crossing in the south of Gaza, known as Rafah, has been damaged in airstrikes.
“We’re not going to tell Canadians to move to that border until we know for sure it’s going to be open and that it is open for the purpose of foreign nationals being able to move out of that gate,” Sunday said
She said Canadian officials in Egypt stand ready to receive Canadians if they do cross.
“We’re making sure we’re ready to catch on the other side too, and I can say that that is a big effort,” she said.
Banner image: Smoke rises from inside an Israeli army position which was hit by Hezbollah fighters as seen from Tair Harfa village, a Lebanese border village with Israel, south Lebanon, Friday, Oct. 20, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Hassan Ammar
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 20, 2023.