Canada working to cope with ‘profoundly frustrating’ situation at Rafah crossing with Gaza

A senior Canadian diplomat says the situation around the stop-start evacuation of Canadians from Gaza has been “profoundly frustrating,” with the Rafah crossing set to potentially reopen on Sunday.

“I was hoping, obviously, that we would have had everyone out by now,” Julie Sunday told CBC News in Cairo. She is an assistant deputy minister at Global Affairs Canada and was recently appointed as Canada’s representative on hostage issues.

Gaza’s border authority announced on Saturday that the Rafah land crossing into Egypt would reopen on Sunday for foreign passport holders. For weeks, the status of the border has been a primary concern for countries like Canada, with hundreds of citizens, permanent residents and their families stuck in war-torn Gaza.

On Tuesday, 75 Canadians, permanent residents and their families were able to leave Gaza, followed by 32 more on Thursday, according to Global Affairs Canada.

But evacuations from the Gaza Strip into Egypt for foreign citizens and Palestinians needing urgent medical treatment were suspended on Friday, three Egyptian security sources and a Palestinian official told Reuters.

“From my perspective, of course, it’s profoundly frustrating,” Sunday said.

Asked whether Hamas, the militant group that governs Gaza, was the problem in allowing the border to open, Sunday said, “I’ve spoken to Israel, I’ve spoken to Egypt, and I certainly don’t think it’s [those countries].”

The situation at the border has been in a state of flux as violence continues to escalate in the region. On Oct. 7, Hamas attacks in southern Israel killed about 1,200 people, while another 240 were taken hostage, Israel said. Israel has responded with weeks of airstrikes that have killed more than 11,000 people, Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry said.

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As hospitals in Gaza shut down due to a severe lack of medicine, supplies and fuel, Israel has also ordered civilians — who are facing extreme shortages of food, water and electricity — to evacuate much of the northern Gaza Strip, and the Rafah crossing remains the only way for most people to leave the territory.

WATCH | A dramatic story of escape from Gaza: 

Canadian who got out of Gaza feels ‘born again’ after reuniting with daughter in Ottawa

Featured VideoHany el Batnigi was visiting Gaza to take care of family business when Hamas’s attacks on Israel sparked an ongoing war. He says he lived in fear of airstrikes ‘every day and every night,’ while daughter Nour el Batnigi in Canada worked to get him back home.

In an interview airing Saturday on CBC News Network, one Palestinian-Canadian who escaped the region spoke about his harrowing story.

“I feel I’m born again, since I’ve been through the bombing every day and every night,” Hany el Batnigi said.

He spoke about a harrowing journey of trying to escape the region with his brother, who uses a wheelchair.

“My nephew carried [my brother] on his back and ran with him. He left the wheelchair in the road.” El Batnigi said he spent seven days in Rafah going to the border every day to see if his name was on the list of people allowed through.

A crowd of people wearing head scarves wait to enter Egypt at the Rafah border crossing.
People wait at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Nov. 1, the first day it was opened to foreign passport holders. (Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)

Lebanon also a concern, official says

Julie Sunday said she has met with officials from multiple countries, including the Israeli lead on the hostage situation, Gal Hirsch, and that it was clear Israel was working for the release of all hostages — two of whom are thought to be Canadian.

“This is an international security crisis. This was terrorism plain and simple, and it’s a threat to all of us. And we are working together on that,” she said.

WATCH | Rafah crossing closed, may open again Sunday: 

Bottleneck of foreigners at closed Rafah border crossing

Featured VideoThe Rafah border crossing from Gaza to Egypt remained closed Friday, creating a bottleneck of foreigners, including Canadians, trying to get out of the war zone. Meanwhile, the U.S. is calling on Israel to do more to protect civilians.

Sunday also said Canadian planning for a potential evacuation from Lebanon was progressing well. More than 17,000 people in Lebanon, which shares a border with Israel, have registered with Global Affairs Canada.

“I would say that planning is going extremely well. We’re working with multiple countries — 20 countries almost — on how we would work together to evacuate if we had to.”

Tensions have been escalating between Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah since the outbreak of war with Hamas. Canada evacuated about 15,000 people from Lebanon in 2006, during a war between Hezbollah and Israel.

Sunday said Canada learned lessons from that experience that could be applied to a potential evacuation in this conflict.

“It would likely be a marine evacuation, that’s our sense,” she said.

“We have the assets that we need. I’m not going to get into details, but we have the assets that we need to be able to do this.”

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