Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly says the federal government is still working to get Canadians out of the besieged Gaza Strip as the Palestinian territory braces for an expected ground invasion by Israel.
Joly also announced a plan to begin evacuating Canadians from the West Bank territory by bus as early as next week.
"We're extremely concerned about the situation in Gaza," she said Saturday at a news conference from Jordan. "Gaza is one of the worst places on Earth to be right now."
The minister said the Israeli government has authorized Canadians' departure from the territory on the Mediterranean Sea, but more work needs to be done to secure their passage. About 160 Canadians and their relatives are still in Gaza, she said.
An plan to allow foreign nationals to leave the territory via the border crossing with Egypt fell through earlier Saturday. The Israeli Foreign Ministry announced the cancellation of the plan in a message sent to western embassies.
Joly said the decision left Canadians stranded in the border city of Rafah.
Meanwhile, a new deal between Canada, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority would allow between 80 and 100 Canadians in the West Bank to depart by bus from the city of Ramallah to the Jordanian capital of Amman, Joly said. Those evacuations are expected to begin Tuesday.
Canadians seeking to leave Israel have been able to take military flights from Tel Aviv to Athens.
Joly called for the protection of Israeli and Palestinian civilians as tensions in the region continue to mount after a surprise attack by Hamas across the Israeli border last weekend.
Israel's military told about one million Palestinians to evacuate northern Gaza on Friday and head to the southern part of the sealed-off coastal enclave ahead of an expected ground invasion.
"Israel has the right to defend itself against these terrorist attacks according to international law," Joly said. "At all times humanitarian law must be respected."
Canadians with relatives in Gaza say their families are in grave danger from the Israeli army’s bombing in Gaza City, and describe the situation as one of ongoing terror and chronic shortages of basic necessities.
Rola Baker, who left the city 12 years ago and is now a Canadian citizen living in Moncton, N.B., said she has two brothers, three sisters, her grandmother, four aunts and six uncles living in the area. She also has a total of 12 young nieces and nephews.
One of Baker's sisters, who is six months pregnant, is trying to take refuge at a hospital, she said.
"There is no water, no electricity, no internet connections. When they occasionally have internet data, they connect and tell me 'Pray for us.' Sometimes they say, 'We might die, just pray for us,'" Baker said.
"It’s horror; it's terrifying. Can you imagine? It’s like they’re waiting to die. That's the situation at the moment."
The 34-year-old graduate student in journalism said one of her young nephews, who is awaiting heart surgery, must constantly wear head phones to block out the noise, as his parents are worried he will die from fright resulting from the explosions' volume as the bombs fall.
Baker said she believes the Canadian government should also assist families like hers, who are now in urgent need of shelter.
"When my nephew called me, he was saying, 'Please take me to where you are. Please take me,'" said Baker, her voice breaking with emotion.
She also said her husband's parents, Laila and Shafiq Alterri, both in their 60s, have Canadian visas to visit her and are waiting near the Rafah border crossing.
In a brief phone interview Saturday, Laila Alterri said her family is living in fear amid what she described as a "very dangerous" situation in the Gaza Strip. She said she hopes to reach safety and be reunited with her son in Canada.
She issued a plea for Canada to help — "Please hurry up."
— With files from Dylan Robertson in Ottawa.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 14, 2023.