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Canadian woman missing amid Israel-Hamas war: Global Affairs Canada

OTTAWA — One Canadian woman is missing in the Middle East, a senior federal bureaucrat told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday when asked whether there any Canadians among the people taken hostage by Hamas.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to reporters before caucus, Wednesday, November 22, 2023 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — One Canadian woman is missing in the Middle East, a senior federal bureaucrat told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday when asked whether there any Canadians among the people taken hostage by Hamas.

"We've confirmed that there's one Canadian woman who is missing, presently," Ann Flanagan Whalen, a director general at Global Affairs Canada whose role includes Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, told the Senate foreign affairs committee when asked about hostages.

"We're not aware of any Canadian children who are missing. We are aware of 40 children hostages at least, who have Israeli nationality," she added.

Her testimony to the committee comes on the eve of a truce in the latest war between Israel and Hamas, with the armed militant group that controls the Gaza Strip expected to start releasing hostages who are women and children on Friday at the earliest.

For weeks, Global Affairs Canada has said that one Canadian is missing, but has provided no demographic information and would not confirm whether that person is being held hostage. But over the weekend, the U.S. State Department alluded to the need to "secure the release of hostages, including U.S. and Canadian citizens."

The latest Israel-Hamas war began after Hamas militants killed an estimated 1,200 people in Israel on Oct. 7, including hundreds of civilians, and took about 240 people hostage. Israel launched a retaliation campaign, including airstrikes and a ground offensive, which health officials in Hamas-controlled Gaza say has killed more than 12,700 people.

Earlier Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said a truce-for-hostages deal between Israel and Hamas might lay the groundwork for an eventualend to the fighting.

"This is an important bit of progress, but we have to redouble our efforts now to get toward a lasting peace," Trudeau told reporters Wednesday morning on Parliament Hill.

"This humanitarian pause is what Canada and others have been calling for, for weeks now."

He was speaking afterEgypt and Qatar, along with the United States, helped mediate adeal between Israel and Hamas, in which 50 hostages of Hamas are to be released in stages over four days, in exchange for what Hamas said would be 150 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

The Israeli government said it would extend the truce by an additional day for every 10 hostages released, while Hamas is promising that hundreds of trucks carrying humanitarian aid, including fuel, will be allowed to enter Gaza.

Hamas, which Canada deems a terrorist organization, said in a statement Wednesday that the deal includes "prohibition of air traffic in the south of Gaza for four days," where most people in the territory have moved, as well as daily six-hour pauses on air traffic in northern Gaza.

Egyptian state media say the truce will begin Thursday morning. 

Trudeau added that the deal loomed large during a call with G20 leaders held Wednesday morning, and he hopes itwill allow for more Canadians to leave Gaza. Six weeks of airstrikes by Israel have destroyed large parts of the Palestinian territory.

"It is going to allow for hostages to finally be liberated; it's going to allow for significant amounts of humanitarian aid to get in to the civilians and the innocent people in Gaza who desperately need it," he said.

"It's going to allow for protecting of civilian life, including hopefully getting even more Canadians and foreign nationals out."

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Jolysaid Tuesday there are roughly 200 people connected to Canada stuck in Gaza. None of them were among those on Wednesday's list of foreign nationals approved to leave through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

Joly had said Tuesday that Canada wants "a humanitarian truce, which would lead to a potential ceasefire," but Trudeau didn't use the word "ceasefire" in his comments on Wednesday.

Trudeau also issued a statement calling for "rapid, sustained, and unimpeded access to humanitarian relief" in Gaza.

When asked about Trudeau's Wednesday remarks, Doctors of the World executive director Joel Weiler rejected the idea that a temporary pause could build momentum for a longer-term peace. 

"It's not enough; it's a Band-Aid and it will solve nothing," Weiler said. He said charities will likely be able to bring in drugs and fuel, but four days won't be enough time to get them to the most desperate people in Gaza.

Paul O'Brien, U.S. head for Amnesty International, said that rich countries need to freeze arms exports to Israel and call for a ceasefire, as countries such as France have done.

"We need G7 countries that have been on the fence about this to step in," O’Brien said. He added that a sustained pause is needed to remove rotting bodies that could spread diseases in Gaza, and to build housing for the looming winter.

"We need to make very clear that the call for a pause cannot stand in the way of the pause for a permanent ceasefire," he said.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs called the deal a relief, but said there must be an "immediate and unconditional" release of all hostages.

"Hamas deserves no praise for agreeing to do less than the bare minimum," the group posted on X.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims called on the Liberal government to pressure Israel toward peace.

"Israeli leaders have vowed to keep the war going. Canada now must become a global leader in gathering support among allies and partners for a just peace — an end to violence that works for both Israelis and Palestinians," the group wrote in a statement.

The council wants Canada to convene international leaders to help broker a permanent ceasefire, stop arms exports to Israel if it vows to continue fighting and "take a clear stance on the rhetoric of ethnic cleansing from extremist leaders" in the Israeli government.

The group's requests come after Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant declared "we are fighting human animals," and Israel's intelligence ministry issued a "concept paper" on the possibility of transferring the 2.3 million people living in Gaza to Egypt or other countries. 

Avril Benoît, the U.S. director for Doctors Without Borders, said Israel needs to allow international observers to assess its unverified claims that Hamas is running a command structure in a hospital. Otherwise, the attacks on hospitals could be war crimes, she said.

"It's dangerous and it's terrifying to think what is happening to the norms, to the laws of war. It's like this dystopian reality now, where all the normal scaffolding of what is the conduct of responsible parties in a conflict have been completely perverted," Benoît said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 22, 2023.

— With files from The Associated Press.

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press