Canada's Defence Minister had strong words about two conflicts in the Middle East at the Halifax International Security Forum on Sunday.

Peter MacKay said Israel has a right to defend itself against Hamas, and that Russia should step into the deteriorating situation in Syria.

The escalating missile exchange between Israel and Hamas was the main topic at the weekend conference.

Delegates had animated discussions about who is to blame and what should be done to stop the attacks from both sides. MacKay put the blame squarely on the shoulders of Hamas.

"A country has the right to defend itself. A country has the right to exist, and part of that existence means protecting your population, which is what Israel is trying to do," he said.

Call for Russian action

MacKay also accused Russia of being unwilling to help resolve the bloodshed in Syria. Anti-government forces have been trying to oust the Assad government since March 2011. Russia has not openly been involved on either side.

"Thus far they have been reluctant to do so at the security council. They have refused to do so bilaterally. We can't have Russia on the sideline with a country coming apart at the seams," he said.

The security conference also focused on Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

MacKay said he visited Afghanistan last week and is encouraged by what he saw. But the defence minister also said the onus is on Pakistan to create real peace in the region.

"Let me be clear: we need Pakistan's unequivocal [support] for that effort for their neighbourhood and thus far that has not been the case," he said.

MacKay said the international security conference is about more than talk. But the CBC's Steven Puddicombe said that with few actual decision makers in attendance, it is questionable about what effect the tough words at this conference will have.