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Trudeau says Israel hurting peace prospects in Gaza, decries Canadians 'lashing out'

OTTAWA — Israel's military actions in the Gaza Strip, which it says are aimed at clearing Hamas militants from the Palestinian territory, are making it harder to achieve long-term stability in the region, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Israel's actions in the Gaza Strip meant to clear Hamas militants are making it harder to achieve long-term stability in the region. Trudeau speaks during a media availability with reporters on the final day of the APEC Summit, in San Francisco, Calif., Friday, Nov. 17, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — Israel's military actions in the Gaza Strip, which it says are aimed at clearing Hamas militants from the Palestinian territory, are making it harder to achieve long-term stability in the region, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.

"Canada is extremely concerned about the number of civilian casualties in Gaza," Trudeau told reporters at the APEC summit in San Francisco.

"Both because the loss of life is heartbreaking to see, but also because the pathway toward a secure, viable, independent Jewish state alongside a secure, viable independent Palestinian state is getting more difficult with all the hardship that Palestinians are going through."

Trudeau, when asked, also repeated his call for Israel to show "maximum restraint" — a phrase he had used Tuesday that prompted a rebuke from Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

On Friday, Trudeau said that during his Thursday conversation with Benny Gantz, a member of Israel's war cabinet, he highlighted Canada's "deep concern" over what the United Nations has warned is a "humanitarian catastrophe that is going to strike millions of people in the coming days and weeks" and is already affecting many.

The conversation with Gantz came a day after the spat with Netanyahu, prompted by Trudeau urging Israel to stop "the killing of women and children, of babies" in the besieged Palestinian territory.

Trudeau said he has "had long disagreements with Prime Minister Netanyahu on the necessity for a two-state solution, on our condemnation of (illegal) settlements" but noted that has long been Canada's foreign policy.

"Even as we absolutely must see releasing of hostages and a condemnation and justice for the Hamas terrorists, we need to also be moving toward peace and stability in the region, and that means protecting civilian life; it means getting necessary aid and medication and water into Gaza," Trudeau said Friday.

The latest conflict began Oct. 7, when Hamas militants killed 1,200 Israelis in surprise attacks, including hundreds of civilians in their homes and at an outdoor music festival. Militants filmed themselves cheerfully undertaking gruesome killings. About 240 people were taken hostage.

Israel declared war on Hamas and began an airstrike campaign and cut off food, fuel, water and supplies to Gaza, which is home to 2.3 million Palestinians. Health officials in the territory say more than 11,470 people have been killed, two-thirds of them women and children, and another 2,700 people are reported missing.

On Friday, Israel announced that it will allow for the first time "very minimal" daily shipments of fuel into Gaza for use by the U.N. and communications systems.

Aid agencies say the lack of fuel has forced them to call off deliveries of basic necessities. They warned of possible widespread starvation in the besieged enclave because of the lack of fuel, and said most people in Gaza were without adequate food and clean water.

Thousands of bodies are buried in rubble left by airstrikes, where families often dig by hand to retrieve them.

Trudeau said he is also disturbed by "Canadians lashing out in anger" against each other amid an "intensity of the emotions."

"Whether it's a woman in a hijab getting spat on, or a Jewish kid going to a college campus (who) is not feeling safe, or gunshots fired at Jewish schools, or a terrifying rise in Islamophobia alongside the significant rise and very troublesome rise in antisemitism … we are not a country where Canadians should be scared of other Canadians," he said.

Trudeau was responding to a question about hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters who surrounded a Vancouver restaurant where he was dining Tuesday, with scores of police sent to control the crowd. Other pro-Palestinian protesters disrupted a Thursday rally held by Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre in London, Ont.

Speaking before Trudeau onFriday, Poilievre said Hamas would not accept a ceasefire when asked how he responds to Canadians who want Israel to stop its war in Gaza.

"Hamas broke the ceasefire with its unprovoked attack on Oct. 7, and Hamas has made it clear that it will not accept a ceasefire, that it will go on seeking genocide against the people of Israel, while oppressing the people of Gaza," he told reporters on Friday in Cambridge, Ont.

"Our view is that Israel has the right to defend itself in accordance with international law," he said. "Hamas is in violation of international law by using human shields and by using hospitals in order to shelter its terrorists in the middle of a war that it started."

Poilievre's comment followed Washington saying Hamas is using the Shifa Hospital in Gaza as a "command-and-control node." The hospital has been the focus of clashing narratives over who is to blame for the widespread suffering of Palestinian civilians during the war.

Doctors there said they were amputating limbs to avoid infection and spoke of wounds festering with maggots, while Israel's military said it was still searching for evidence to back up its allegations that Hamas used the hospital as an "operational command centre."

On Friday, Poilievre also said the federal government needs to crack down harder on people linked to the Iranian regime inside Canada, because of links between Tehran and Hamas, which Canada considers a terrorist entity.

He argued this could be done by listing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist group. The Liberal government has instead banned people with senior IRGC roles from entering Canada. The government has argued that a terror listing would inadvertently punish immigrants who had been drafted into the Iranian military.

Meanwhile, Global Affairs Canada reported that another nine people with links to Canada made it out of the Gaza Strip on Friday.

Global Affairs Canada said that as of Friday afternoon, 376 Canadians, permanent residents and their relatives have been able to escape via the Rafah border crossing.

The department had said on Wednesday afternoon that it was in touch with 386 people still in the besieged territory.

It has since stopped reporting how many Canadians are in Gaza, instead publishing a combined number with those in the West Bank.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 17, 2023.

— With files from The Associated Press

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press