Israel’s military operation in Rafah ‘completely unacceptable’, says Joly

Laura Osman and Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

Published Tuesday, May 7, 2024 2:33 pmEDT

Canada’s foreign minister chastised Israel for its invasion of the Gaza Strip city of Rafah on Tuesday but said she remains hopeful that ceasefire talks will prevail.

“An invasion of Rafah, which would endanger the lives of women, children and innocent civilians, is completely unacceptable,” Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly told reporters in Parliament.

Israeli officials announced Monday that the country approved a military operation in the border town and Israeli forces began attacking targets in the area.

The move came hours after Hamas announced it had accepted a ceasefire proposal between Egypt and Qatar, which Israel says fails to meet its essential demands.

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

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

The flow of humanitarian aid stopped when Israel took control of the border on Tuesday in what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called an “important step” toward dismantling Hamas’ military and economic capabilities.

Around 1.3 million Palestinians – more than half of Gaza’s population – are crowded into Rafah and rely on aid flowing through the border crossing.

Canada has consistently advised against Israel’s operation in Rafah, International Development Minister Ahmed Hussen said Tuesday.

“They are trapped there, without access to humanitarian aid, and this will cause many civilian casualties,” he said.

“We are very disappointed that this is happening.”

Canada has already explored other options to bring aid to the besieged territory, including contributing to a seaport and resorting to airdrops, Hussen said.

“We’ve done everything we can,” he said.

At a committee meeting last week, Canadian officials told senators they hoped for a ceasefire that would allow aid to be delivered to Gaza.

However, experts warned that Ottawa is in the difficult 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 large quantities of food that will undercut the black market in Gaza, said Karim Morcos, Canada’s global affairs director for Israel and the Palestinian territories.

He said that flour is so scarce and expensive in the territory that its delivery causes violence and theft.

“The strategy of the UN agencies is to flood the place with aid so that it devalues,” he told the Senate defense committee last week.

“What they’re looking for is basically to take a football 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 that both Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza are dissatisfied with their leaders, who may rely on the ongoing conflict to distract from their own unpopularity, said Janice Stein, a renowned foreign policy analyst at the Munk School of the University of Toronto.

Polls show a majority of Israelis want Netanyahu gone, and there are “fractures” between his coalition of nationalists and religious parties on issues such as Iran, he told the committee.

Palestinians are also openly expressing their anger at Hamas for exposing them to war without thinking about the civilian population, he said.

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

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

Stein warned that time is running out to de-escalate the conflict and that “a high risk of escalation into a broader regional war” would have “catastrophic consequences for civilians.”

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

— With files from The Associated Press.

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