Israel-Hamas hostage deal offers pause in fighting, hope for Canadians still in Gaza

By Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — Israel’s cabinet agreed late Tuesday to a deal that would see the release of dozens of hostages being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip and bring the first pause in the fighting of a devastating six-week war. 

Under the deal, Hamas is to free 50 of the roughly 240 hostages it is holding in the Gaza Strip over a four-day period, the Israeli government said Wednesday. It said it would extend the lull by an additional day for every 10 hostages released.

In a statement, the government said the first hostages to be released would be women and children. It was not immediately clear when the truce would take effect.

Media reports ahead of the vote said the deal would include Israel freeing some 150 Palestinian prisoners and allowing additional humanitarian aid into Gaza, but the Israeli statement made mention of neither.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had earlier vowed to continue the war until the military capabilities of Hamas are destroyed and all hostages have been freed. The war would resume after any temporary ceasefire, he added.

Netanyahu’s office said the special three-member war cabinet met Tuesday and would be followed by meetings of his security cabinet, a forum of senior security officials, and the full cabinet.

Earlier in the day, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly expressed hope that a deal would allow all foreign nationals in Gaza to get out of the war zone, including the roughly 200 Canadians who are still there.

“We want to make sure that all hostages are released, that all foreign nationals are allowed to get out of Gaza — including, of course, the around 200 Canadians that are still in Gaza,” Joly said.

Global Affairs Canada has said one Canadian is missing, but won’t confirm if that person is being held hostage, a possibility Washington hinted at in a statement over the weekend.

The Liberals have been under sustained pressure from humanitarian organizations, Muslim groups and even some of their MPs to endorse calls for a ceasefire. Canada has instead asked for temporary pauses, arguing those could build momentum in the Middle East for negotiations.

“Our objective right now is that finally, humanitarian pauses (will be) allowed to happen, and we think that this potential deal could lead to a form of, eventually, a ceasefire,” Joly said. 

After sundown Tuesday, dozens of pro-Palestine protesters gathered outside a Liberal fundraiser at a suburban Ottawa hotel, chanting “ceasefire now” ahead of the expected arrival of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

A handful of protesters were able to gain access to the venue before Trudeau arrived, shouting slogans and brandishing hand-lettered banners before being brusquely removed from the room by security.  

The latest Israel-Hamas war began after militants killed an estimated 1,200 people in Israel on Oct. 7. Israel launched a retaliation campaign that the health officials in Gaza say has killed more than 12,700 people.

Meanwhile, no Canadians were added Tuesday to a list of foreign nationals approved to cross into Egypt from Gaza. Ottawa says more than 450 Canadians, permanent residents and their relatives have been able to leave since the conflict began.

After Israel declared war on Hamas, it began an airstrike campaign and cut off food, fuel, water and supplies to the Gaza Strip, with the exception of occasional deliveries of humanitarian aid.

More than 1,400 trucks of humanitarian aid have entered Gaza since the first were allowed on Oct. 21, and more could come if unspecified logistical issues are rectified, Israeli military spokesman Col. Elad Goren told a media briefing.

The UN agency for Palestinians, called UNWRA, says that before the current war about 100 trucks would enter Gaza daily, where more than 60 per cent of the population relies on the agency’s help. Since the war, Israeli officials have inspected all trucks entering Gaza to prevent Hamas from accessing more weapons.

“Our security mechanisms have the capability and the capacity to significantly increase the number of trucks entering Gaza, dependent on the improvement of the UN’s and other international organizations’ logistics,” Goren said.

“We are willing to increase dramatically the number of trucks, as the UN and the Egyptians will give us their priorities and their needs.”

Late Monday, Joly also condemned violence against Palestinians in the West Bank by Israeli settlers, who live in communities that violate international law.

As Israel launched its war against Hamas in Gaza, it also closed off the West Bank, with Israeli officials raiding towns, imposing curfews and arresting teenagers. The Associated Press says detainees have been beaten, and Jewish vigilantes have stormed villages.

The United Nations says Israeli settler attacks have surged at an unprecedented rate, while health authorities say settlers have killed nine Palestinians.

“Canada strongly condemns the extremist settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank,” Joly posted on social media. 

Canada, she added, is “gravely concerned by reports of Palestinian communities being forcibly removed from their lands in the West Bank.” 

The government called on Israel and its partners to take the necessary steps to prevent further violence, protect Palestinians and “hold those responsible for the violence accountable under the law.”

The statement says the violence impedes progress toward a two-state solution where Israel and a Palestinian state exist as peaceful, autonomous countries. Israel says it has control over the territory, and foreign ministry spokesman Alex Gandler seemed to downplay Joly’s concerns. 

“Israel has full control of everything that is happening inside of Israel. We’re currently in a situation of war as well,” he said Tuesday in response to Joly’s statement. 

“There is no extremist violence that is currently (occurring) to our knowledge.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 21, 2023.

— With files from Liam Fox in Ottawa and The Associated Press

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

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