World

Safety cited in halting plan to take stranded Canadians into Israel

A number of Canadians attempting to flee from the violence in the Gaza Strip with the help of the Canadian and Israeli governments remain stranded in the territory after it was deemed too dangerous to cross the border into Israel.

A number of Canadians attempting to flee from the violence in the Gaza Strip with the help of the Canadian and Israeli governments remain stranded in the territory after it was deemed too dangerous to cross the border into Israel.

At least 250 foreigners, including 39 Canadians, were expected to cross into Israel at the Erez Crossing — the main terminal out of Gaza located at the Gaza/Israeli border— on Monday.

But when a busload of about 35 people came to the border point, they had to turn back.

"Travelling in Gaza right now is immensely dangerous. The group came up on something that is being described as an obstacle in the road," the CBC's Peter Armstrong reported.

"Nobody will tell us precisely what that obstacle was. But they say it was deemed unsafe to try to pass it and turned around."

The Canadian government said Sunday that it asked Israeli authorities Friday to issue the necessary travel permits to allow Canadians to leave Gaza as quickly as possible, the CBC's Nahlah Ayed reported.

But Israeli officials said the request only came Saturday evening, the same night the ground offensive began.

Armstrong said artillery shells and machine-gun fire could be heard close by, indicating there may have been skirmishes close to the border.

'We want to get those people out'

"Essentially they decided it was safer to try to turn around and go back to their homes in the midst of all this than to try to make the crossing and try to make it to Erez Crossing itself," he said.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli government, told CBC News that its officials have been working closely with the Canadian government and other foreign governments to get foreign nationals and people with dual citizenship out of the Gaza Strip.

Regev said 100 people were able to leave on Sunday and another group was set to leave on Monday.

"Because of the fighting, I understand it became difficult. I’m still hopeful that it will happen today. We want to get those people out.

"They shouldn't be caught up in the conflict if at all possible."

Calgary's Marwan Diab, who was visiting Gaza City with his wife and four children, told CBC News that it's difficult to stay safe in the territory because of the violence.

"We are dealing with electricity cut off for the last four days. We’re dealing with lots of bombing. Every once in a while, you hear extreme explosions. You hear tanks shelling at buildings or at open space. You are hearing lots of bombings everywhere."

Diab said he is on the waiting list to be taken out of Gaza and into Israel.

"I applied to leave, I guess, later than I should have done," he said.

A former Canadian ambassador to the UN, Paul Heinbecker, said that while quiet diplomacy may be taking place behind the scenes, Canada is at a disadvantage.

"As foreign minister, Mr. Cannon hasn't had much opportunity to travel … and personal diplomacy matters, relationships matter, and he hasn't had much time to develop them," he said.

In another development, Israel cancelled plans to allow a small group of foreign journalists into the Gaza Strip. Since the operation began, Israel has denied entry to foreign reporters, prompting the Foreign Press Association in Israel to go to the country's Supreme Court to demand access.

Israel had agreed to allow in about six journalists.