Published May 7, 2024

(Updated) Israel's military operation in Rafah 'completely unacceptable,' Joly says

By Laura Osman and Dylan Robertson

Updated May 7, 2024 @ 4:21pm

Liberal ministers expressed disappointment and dismay Tuesday in response to Israel's invasion of the city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip — the last refuge for displaced Palestinians in the territory. 

Canada's foreign minister rebuked Israel for its military operation in Rafah, but said she's holding out hope that ceasefire talks will prevail. 

"An invasion of Rafah, which would endanger the lives of women and children and innocent civilians, is completely unacceptable," Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly told reporters on Parliament Hill.

Israeli officials announced Monday that the country approved a military operation into the border city began striking targets in the area.

The move came just hours after Hamas announced it had accepted an Egyptian-Qatari ceasefire proposal, which Israel says does not meet its essential demands. 

The situation in the Palestinian territory is already catastrophic, and the vast majority of people in the city have already been displaced and have nowhere to go, Joly said.

She also said Canada is putting pressure on Israeli officials to stop the military operation. 

The flow of humanitarian aid was halted when Israel seized control of the border Tuesday in what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called an "important step" toward dismantling Hamas’ military and economic capabilities.

About 1.3 million Palestinians — more than half of Gaza’s population — are jammed into Rafah and rely on aid that flows through border crossing. 

"They're trapped there, no access to humanitarian aid, and this will cause a lot of civilian casualties," said International Development Minister Ahmed Hussen Tuesday. Canada has constantly advised against a military operation in Rafah, he said. 

"We're very disappointed that it's happening."

Canada has already explored other options to get aid into the besieged territory, including contributing to a sea port and resorting to airdrops, Hussen said. 

"We've done everything that we can," he said. 

The border closure will also further complicate plans to get people with extended family ties to Canadians out of Gaza.

"It means we will not be able to get people out, and that’s an extreme concern to me," said Immigration Minister Marc Miller. 

The government launched a temporary visa program to bring people to Canada to seek refuge with their Canadian families, but hasn't been able to facilitate their escape from the war zone through the already tightly-controlled Rafah border.

Some people have managed to get out on their own by giving huge sums of money to private firms to allow them through the crossing into Egypt.

People will likely continue to do whatever they have to do to get out, even in a militarized zone with their lives on the line, Miller said.

"It would be hard to speculate, but it sure will be harder, I would think," he said. 

At a committee meeting last week, Canadian officials told senators they were hoping for a ceasefire that will allow for the delivery of aid to Gaza. 

Experts advised, though, that Ottawa is in the tricky position of dealing with leaders who lack political incentives to end the conflict.

Ottawa's aid budget is helping to fund efforts to eventually bring in ample amounts of food that will undercut the black market in Gaza, said Karim Morcos, Global Affairs Canada's director for Israel and the Palestinian territories.

He said flour is so rare and expensive in the territory that delivering it prompts violence and theft.

"The strategy of the UN agencies is to flood the place with aid so that it becomes devalued," he testified last week at the Senate defence committee.

"What they are looking for is to basically take a soccer stadium and just fill it with aid, and have people serve themselves. That's the only way they can do it in the short term, where there is no civil order to protect those deliveries."

There are signs both Israelis and the Palestinians in Gaza are unhappy with their leaders, who can rely on the ongoing conflict to distract from their own unpopularity, said Janice Stein, a renowned foreign-policy analyst based at the University of Toronto's Munk School.

Polls show a majority of Israelis want Netanyahu to leave, and there are "cracks" between his coalition of nationalists and religious parties on issues such as Iran, she told the committee.

Palestinians are also expressing open anger at Hamas for exposing them to the war without thought for the civilian population, she said. 

Gaza became a battlefield after Hamas launched an attack on Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 Israeli civilians and military members.

The retaliatory siege, bombardments and ground attacks have left more than 30,000 Palestinians dead, health officials in the region said. 

Stein warned time is running out to de-escalate the conflict, and "a high risk of escalation to a wider regional war" would "have catastrophic consequences for the civilian population."

Banner image: Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike on residential building in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 7, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Ismael Abu Dayyah

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2024.

— With files from The Associated Press.

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