Canadians in Gaza Await Evacuation Amid Escalating Conflict

Gaza Experiences Communications Blackout Amid Growing Conflict and Potential Egypt Border Deal
People wait at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip on on Wednesday. Egypt is preparing to treat wounded Palestinians from Gaza. (Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)

Canadians trapped in the Gaza Strip are facing delays in a fraught evacuation plan as the region’s escalating conflict complicates their safe return. Global Affairs Canada has tentatively scheduled departures for as early as Tuesday, but with communications down and the Rafah border crossing closed, the timeline remains uncertain.

Dalia Salim, a resident of London, Ont., represents one of many Canadian families caught in the turmoil. Her 66-year-old father, Sami, has been sleeping in a tent in southern Gaza, clinging to the hope of crossing into Egypt and returning to Canada. “Communication has been difficult,” Salim said. “They’re just saying, basically, ‘stay put, you are registered, and the evacuation will happen in the next few days.'”

However, a definitive departure seems elusive as the Rafah border remains shut. A spokesperson from the Palestinian Crossings Authority cited Israeli restrictions on the evacuation of Palestinian patients to Egypt as one reason for the closure, with no clear reasons given for the continued impasse.

The conflict intensified after Israel’s military encircled Gaza City and split the region in two, following Hamas’ Oct. 7 incursion into Israel, which resulted in at least 1,400 Israeli casualties. “Today there is north Gaza and south Gaza,” stated Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, marking a “significant stage” in the confrontation.

Seham al-Batnejy and her daughter wait at the Rafah crossing in Gaza on Sunday. The Palestinian Canadian is hoping to enter Egypt to escape the war, but evacuations were suspended on Saturday. (Reuters)

For the Canadians awaiting evacuation, information is scarce. Salim learned from an agent at Global Affairs Canada that Monday’s departure was not advisable due to the closed border and expected delays. Meanwhile, a widely-shared Google spreadsheet containing an evacuation list from the General Authority for Border Crossings in Gaza has not seen updates since Friday.

As it stands, 596 Canadians and permanent residents have registered for evacuation, with nearly 450 eligible individuals eager to leave. Global Affairs confirmed that only three Canadians have crossed the border with third-party assistance.

In a recent development, Louis Dumas, Canada’s ambassador to Egypt, expressed hope that up to 200 Canadians could be evacuated on the first day once clearance is granted. However, he cautioned that other nations have faced difficulties in evacuating all listed individuals on scheduled days.

The dire situation extends beyond logistics, as echoed by Samah Al-Sabbagh of London, whose 73-year-old father is trapped in northern Gaza. “It’s literally a death sentence,” she said, referencing the perils of traveling to the border under continuous airstrikes.

Canadian officials have prepared to assist evacuees swiftly upon receiving approval from Egyptian authorities, who have stipulated that embassies can only be present on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing after the evacuation is confirmed.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been in talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, expressing gratitude for Egypt’s support in the evacuation process. Nonetheless, Trudeau has stopped short of calling for a ceasefire, instead suggesting a “humanitarian pause” while reaffirming “the importance of upholding international humanitarian law and making every effort to protect Palestinian civilians.”

As the conflict’s death toll rises, with the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza reporting 9,700 Palestinian casualties, the pressure mounts for a humanitarian resolution. With Israel firmly against a ceasefire until Hamas releases hostages taken during their initial attack, the fate of the stranded Canadians, and indeed all civilians in Gaza, hangs in the balance.