Israel-Hamas hostage deal offers hope for longer-term peace in Gaza: Trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to reporters before caucus, Wednesday, November 22, 2023 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

TTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says a truce-for-hostages deal between Israel and Hamas

might set the groundwork for an eventual end 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 after Egypt and Qatar, along with the United States, helped mediate ideal 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 Palestinians 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.

Global Affairs Canada has said one Canadian is missing, but won’t confirm if that person is being held hostage. The United States said the group of about 240 hostages included American and Canadian citizens in a statement on the weekend.

Trudeau added that the deal loomed large during a call with G20 leaders held Wednesday morning, and he hopes it will allow for more Canadians to leave the Gaza Strip. Six weeks of Israeli airstrikes 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.”

Montreal Liberal MP Anthony Housefather said in a post on X, formally known as Twitter, that he was “very pleased that a deal has been reached”

during his visit to Israel this week alongside other Canadian MPs.

He said he has met with many hostage families in Israel, and he is happy that the deal between Israel and Hamas will lead to the release of 50 hostages and the delivery of significant humanitarian aid to Gaza.

On Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly expressed hope that a deal would allow all foreign nationals in Gaza to get out of the war zone, saying that still included roughly 200 people connected to Canada.

No Canadians were among those on Wednesday’s list of foreign nationals approved to cross into Egypt from Gaza.

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.

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 Canadian-listed terrorist organization has for weeks been negotiating with innocent Jewish lives, seeking to trade Israeli babies and mothers for Palestinians held on and convicted of terror related offences.”

The National Council of Canadian Muslims echoed Trudeau’s comments that a temporary pause should lead to a longer peace, and asked Ottawa to take a leadership role.

“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.

The latest Israel-Hamas war began after Hamas militants killed an estimated 1,200 people in Israel on Oct. 7.

Israel launched a retaliation campaign, including airstrikes and a ground offensive, which the health officials in Gaza say has killed more than 12,700 people.

A cease-fire agreement between the Hamas militant group and Israel has been confirmed by both parties, along with Washington and Qatar, which helped broker the deal that would bring a temporary halt to the devastating war that is now in its seventh week.

The Israeli government said that under an outline of the deal, Hamas is to free over a four-day period at least 50 of the roughly 240 hostages taken in its Oct. 7 attack on Israel, and Israel is to release some Palestinian prisoners in exchange. Egyptian state media say the truce will begin Thursday morning. Egypt helped mediate the cease-fire agreement, which would bring the first respite to war-weary Palestinians in Gaza, where more than 11,000 people have been killed, according to health authorities.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said before the Cabinet voted early Wednesday to back the agreement that the war would continue even if a deal was reached. Some 1,200 people have been killed in Israel, mostly during the initial incursion by Hamas.

JERUSALEM — The Israeli army says it has released an award-winning Palestinian poet it detained in Gaza.

Mosab Abu Toha has been contributing pieces to western media since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, painting a dire picture of its toll on civilians through his personal experience.

His family announced Monday that Abu Toha had been arrested while evacuating to southern Gaza from his home in the hard-hit Jabaliya refugee camp.

Abu Toha last posted to X on Nov. 15, writing: “Alive. Thanks for your prayers.”

Diana Buttu, a former Palestinian peace negotiator and friend of the family, said Abu Toha was stopped at an Israeli checkpoint and held for two days with dozens of other Palestinians at an Israeli detention center. She says he was was accused of having Hamas connections and beaten up in custody.

“He was taken out of Gaza and he was interrogated,” she said.

She said he was released on Tuesday, apparently after the case attracted international attention.

The literary and free expression organization PEN said it was concerned about the arrest and demanded to know Abu Toha’s whereabouts and the reason for his arrest. The New Yorker magazine, to which Abu Toha has contributed multiple articles, called for his safe return.

The Israeli military said Wednesday that Abu Toha had been released. It gave no further details.

Buttu said Abu Toha was safe in central Gaza after receiving medical treatment. The poet, whose son is an American citizen, is trying to leave the besieged territory.

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip — More than 100 bodies were buried Wednesday in a mass grave in Khan Younis, the corpses wrapped in blue plastic sheets fastened with cable ties.

Medical workers placed dozens of bodies brought from various areas in northern Gaza, including Shifa Hospital, into a huge trench that was dug using a bulldozer.

Workers wearing surgical masks and gloves carried the bodies to the grave and performed funeral prayers.

GENEVA —International aid groups that have lined up thousands of aid trucks for Gaza say they’re ready to move quickly to send in food, water and other supplies if a pause in fighting between Hamas and Israel takes hold as hoped on Thursday.

Details remain unclear about both the mechanics of getting more aid for beleaguered Palestinians in Gaza and the possible release of hostages kidnapped from Israel whose families have desperately sought their release.

The aid groups say a key ambition will be to get help to northern Gaza, which has been largely inaccessible to humanitarian shipments and where nearly all hospitals have stopped working amid a blistering military campaign by Israeli forces.

“The entire humanitarian sector is ready to scale up once everything is set,” said Tommaso Della Longa, a spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, referring to the fine print of the announced deal.

Della Longa lamented “bottlenecks” that have confounded the deliveries of some humanitarian aid — though not nearly enough — into Gaza. He said IFRC hopes that a deal would include provisions to allow for a “faster track” of aid shipments.

The only route for international humanitarian aid into Gaza since Oct. 7 has been through the Rafah Crossing into Egypt, and planeloads of supplies have been flown into the nearby Egyptian city of El-Arish — and trucks have queued up near Gaza.

Intense Israeli inspections of trucks and cargo have slowed entry into Gaza.

WASHINGTON — A major Iranian-backed militant group in Iraq has warned it may strike additional U.S. targets after U.S. warplanes killed multiple militants in response to the first use of short-range ballistic missiles against U.S. forces at Al-Asad Air Base earlier this week.

U.S. fighter jets struck a Kataib Hezbollah operations centre and a Kataib Hezbollah command and control node south of Baghdad on Tuesday, two defence officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to provide additional sensitive details of the attacks.

There were Kataib Hezbollah personnel at both sites at the time of the strikes, but the officials said they could not yet confirm whether anyone there was killed.

Militia officials in Iraq said the attack had killed eight Kataib Hezbollah members.

Kataib Hezbollah said in a statement Wednesday that it was considering “expanding the scope of targets” if the U.S. military continues with its strikes, adding that the attack “will not go unpunished.”

The dangerous back-and-forth strikes have escalated since Iranian-backed militant groups under the umbrella group called the Islamic Resistance in Iraq and Syria began striking U.S. facilities on Oct. 17, the date that a blast at a hospital in Gaza killed hundreds. The attacks have continued unabated since, with at least 66 rocket and missile attacks hitting U.S. facilities and wounding at least 62 service members.

GENEVA —Switzerland’s executive branch said Wednesday it will ask parliament to ban the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

The Federal Council said the government will also end contracts it has with three Palestinian non-governmental organizations. They were among 11 Palestinian and Israeli NGOs that had been under review by Swiss officials following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks in Israel.

Four days after the deadly rampage in Israel, the council moved to designate Hamas as a terrorist group and instructed the Foreign Ministry to consider a possible ban.

The seven-member council, which includes the Swiss president, reiterated its condemnation of the attacks “in the strongest possible terms” and expressed its regret about the deaths of thousands of civilians on both sides of the conflict.

The United States and the European Union, which does not count Switzerland as a member, have long considered Hamas a terrorist organization.

Egypt’s state-run Qahera TV says the Israel-Hamas truce will take effect at 10 a.m. local time (0800 GMT) Thursday.

Egypt helped mediate the four-day cease-fire, which will facilitate the release of dozens of hostages captured by Hamas during its Oct. 7 attack into southern Israel. The deal will also see the release of dozens of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel and the entry of more humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Israeli media also reported that the truce would begin Thursday at 10 a.m.

The World Health Organization has documented 178 attacks on healthcare facilities that killed 553 people, including 22 healthcare workers, since the war started on Oct. 7, the agency’s regional director said Wednesday.

Ahmed Al-Mandhari said in an online briefing that about 800 people, including 48 healthcare workers, were injured in the attacks, which damaged 24 hospitals and 32 ambulances.

The war has forced the shutdown of 27 out of 36 hospitals and 47 out of 72 primary health care clinics across Gaza, he said. The facilities stopping providing services mainly because of a lack of fuel and attacks, he said.

“Hospitals must be allowed to replenish the resources they need to continue functioning,” he said. “We cannot keep providing drops of aid in an ocean of needs.”

The World Health Organization says one of its local staff members in Gaza was killed along with her family when a strike hit the home where they were sheltering.

It said Dima Abdullatif Mohammed Alhaj, 29, was killed Tuesday along with her husband, their 6-month-old son and her two brothers.

The UN health agency said in a statement late Tuesday that over 50 people were reportedly killed in the strike. It was not immediately possible to confirm the report or to determine who carried out the strike.

Israel has launched airstrikes across Gaza in the war triggered by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel. Hamas militants have fired rockets at Israel, some of which have fallen short.

Dr. Rik Peeperkorn, WHO’s representative for the Palestinian territories, said Alhaj “was a wonderful person with a radiant smile, cheerful, positive, respectful. She was a true team player.”

Alhaj, who had worked as a patient administrator with WHO since 2019, was among hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled from northern Gaza to shelter in the south. She had left her home in Gaza City and was staying with relatives.

WHO said her death “is another example of the senseless loss in this conflict.”

Pope Francis has met separately with Israeli and Palestinian delegations and begged for peace and an end to what he called terrorism and “passions that are killing everyone.”

In encounters arranged before the Israeli-Hamas hostage deal was announced, Francis met Wednesday with relatives of hostages held in Gaza following Hamas’ Oct. 7 raid in southern Israel. And he met separately with a delegation of Palestinians with relatives who are prisoners in Israel.

Speaking at the end of his weekly general audience, Francis said he heard from both how much they are suffering and the toll that the war was taking. In the audience were people holding Palestinian flags and scarves as well as small posters showing apparent bodies in a ditch and the word “Genocide” written underneath.

Francis said: “Here we’ve gone beyond war. This isn’t war, this is terrorism. Please, let us go forward for peace. Pray for peace, pray a lot for peace.”

He also asked for God to help both Israeli and Palestinian people “resolve problems and not go forward with passions that are killing everyone in the end.”

Francis has spoken out repeatedly for an end to the war.

Israel’s Justice Ministry has published a list of 300 Palestinian detainees and prisoners who could potentially be released in a hostage deal.

Most of those on the list published Wednesday are teenagers arrested over the past year for relatively minor offences, including throwing rocks or alleged incitement. None was convicted of murder, though some served sentences for attempted murder.

The youngest detainee on the list is 14, and it also includes around 40 women. The detainees are to be released to their homes in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

According to the truce-for-hostages deal announced Wednesday, 50 hostages will be released over four days, likely starting Thursday, during which fighting will pause.

After that, every additional 10 hostages released will result in one additional day in the pause and the release of additional Palestinian prisoners.

Israel is expected to release 150 Palestinian prisoners in the first four days, though the Ministry of Justice published the list of 300 in case the deal is extended. Under Israeli law, the public has 24 hours to object to any release.

The evacuation of patients trapped in Shifa Hospital in Gaza City has begun, the Palestinian Red Crecent says.

The charity said 14 ambulances arrived at the hospital on Wednesday, and the evacuation has been coordinated with the United Nations and Doctors without Borders medical group.

Ashraf al-Qidra, the spokesperson for Gaza’s Health Ministry, has said there were over 250 patients at the facility, which was besieged by the Israeli military earlier this month. Over 400 displaced people sheltering in the facility have also been trapped there, he said.

Israel has accused Hamas of using the hospital, the largest in Gaza, to conduct militant operations. Hamas and health officials have denied the allegation.

Over the weekend, the World Health Organization coordinated the evacuation of 31 premature babies from Shifa Hospital to southern Gaza. Of them, 28 babies were later transferred to Egypt.

The European Union’s crisis management chief has welcomed the Israeli hostage release agreement and says the halt in fighting that is part of the deal must be used to flood Gaza with desperately needed aid.

“We hope that the agreement on a pause of hostilities that has just been reached will allow for a substantial surge in humanitarian aid delivery into and within Gaza,” Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarcic said Wednesday.

“We certainly hope that this will not be a one-off,” he told EU lawmakers in Strasbourg, France, and called for “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses throughout Gaza.”

The 27-nation EU is the world’s biggest aid donor to the Palestinians. Lenarcic said 15 EU aid cargo flights have been sent, with most of that aid already in Gaza, and that more is on the way.

The bloc insists that more trucks must be allowed through the Rafah crossing point with Egypt and other corridors opened.

Lenarcic said getting into Gaza is “extremely challenging” and that fewer than 50 trucks a day make it through, a number which he described as “woefully inadequate.” He welcomed Israel’s decision to allow some fuel in, but said it only covers about one third of Gaza’s basic needs.

The British government has welcomed an agreement to release some of the Israeli hostages held in Gaza and urged all parties to ensure it is “delivered in full.”

Foreign Secretary David Cameron said the agreement was “a crucial step towards providing relief to the families of the hostages and addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.”

“This pause provides an important opportunity to ensure much greater volumes of food, fuel and other life-saving aid can reach Gaza on a sustained basis,” he said. “The U.K. will continue to work with all partners in the region to secure the release of all hostages, restore security and reach a long-term political solution which enables both Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace.”

The Chinese government says it welcomes the four-day truce reached between Israel and Hamas.

“We welcome the provisional truce reached by the parties concerned and hope it will help to alleviate the humanitarian crisis, de-escalate the conflict and ease tensions,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a daily briefing in Beijing on Wednesday.

China has been calling for a ceasefire and refrained from criticizing the initial Hamas attack on Israel that started the latest conflict. A delegation of foreign ministers from Arab nations and Indonesia held talks with China’s foreign minister this week as they started a tour to press their case for a ceasefire with the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

The Kremlin on Wednesday hailed a deal between Israel and Hamas for a halt to the war and the release of hostages as step toward ending the hostilities.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the announcement of the deal was “the first good news from Gaza in a long time.”

Speaking in a conference call with reporters, he noted that Russia along with most other countries had called for a truce and humanitarian pauses, adding that “only on the basis of such pauses future attempts to find a lasting settlement to the problem could be made.”

France’s foreign minister says she’s hopeful that French nationals will be among the first hostages released as part of a truce deal between Israel and Hamas.

“We hope that French nationals are among them and even, if possible, among the first group that will be released,” the minister, Catherine Colonna, said Wednesday on France Inter radio. “We are working for that.”

France counts eight people missing, some of them confirmed as hostages, from the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas militants that ignited their latest and deadliest war. France also counts 40 killed in the attack. Colonna said that not all the hostages taken on Oct. 7 were captured by Hamas. But she said that in the course of negotiations, the militant group has said that “it could assemble together all of the hostages.”

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday welcomed the truce agreement.

In a message on X, formerly Twitter, Macron said “we are working tirelessly to ensure that all hostages are released.” He also hoped the truce will “enable aid to be brought in” and help the Gaza people.

Turkiye, a vocal critic of Israel’s actions in Gaza, welcomed the four-day truce as a “positive development to prevent more bloodshed.”

A Foreign Ministry statement released Wednesday said Turkiye expects full compliance with the agreement.

“We hope that the humanitarian pause will help permanently end the current conflict as soon as possible and initiate a process towards a just and lasting peace based on a two-state solution,” it said.

The United States military said Wednesday that it has carried out strikes against Iran-backed groups in Iraq that have launched attacks on U.S. forces.

The U.S. Central Command said in a statement Wednesday that its forces had “conducted discrete, precision strikes against two facilities in Iraq ΓǪ in direct response to the attacks against U.S. and Coalition forces by Iran and Iran-backed groups,” including one on Tuesday involving the use of close-range ballistic missiles.

Two officials with Iranian-backed militias in Iraq said the strikes hit three locations in the area of Jurf al-Sakhar south of Baghdad, killing eight members of the Kataeb Hezbollah militant group. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Iranian-backed militants have launched dozens of attacks on bases and facilities housing U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria since Oct. 17. While most of the more than five dozen attacks have been ineffective, at least 60 U.S. personnel have reported minor injuries. The militant groups have said the strikes are in retaliation for U.S. support of Israel in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

The Israeli military released a video Wednesday that appeared to show its personnel engaged in house-to-house search operations.

Soldiers with laser pointers on their weapons filed into homes and patrolled narrow, debris-strewn alleyways, some next to the Gaza seafront. The patrols were supported by demolition teams, airstrikes and naval strikes.

The German government is bringing home most of the soldiers that were deployed to the eastern Mediterranean for a possible evacuation of German citizens from Lebanon.

About 1,000 German soldiers are to leave the island of Cyprus starting Wednesday, according to German news agency dpa. A small team of about 200 as well as material and equipment will remain behind. The decision was made following an assessment of the current conflict in the Middle East.

“The Bundeswehr generally keeps its resources available for evacuation operations in such a way that it can react flexibly to crisis situations worldwide,” the German defence ministry and foreign office said in a joint statement. The forces brought back to Germany will be kept on call at short notice to “be able to react quickly in the event of a worsening situation,” it said.

The special forces would have been deployed to evacuate German citizens from Lebanon in case the war spread there.

Pro-Palestinian protesters interrupted a townhall meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson on Tuesday, booing and heckling him when he addressed the Israel-Hamas conflict.

The protesters chanted “Shame on you” and accused Kristersson of supporting genocide after he said Sweden condemns Hamas and supports Israel’s right to self-defence. Police removed some of them from the venue in Gothenburg, Sweden’s second-biggest city.

Kristersson criticized the protesters in a Facebook post after the event.

“When we met tonight with a few hundred Gothenburgers the meeting was disrupted by a screaming and shouting group of people who refused to respect everyone else who had come to ask questions,” he wrote. “These political saboteurs appeared to have come to our question-and-answer session only to shout out their anger over Sweden and the EU’s political position about the conflict in the Middle East — they were particularly disappointed over the condemnation of the terror organization Hamas.”

Kristersson’s center-right government has strongly sided with Israel in the Gaza conflict, condemning Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and supporting Israel’s right to self-defence. Pro-Palestinian groups and the left-leaning opposition have accused the government of ignoring the plight of Palestinian civilians.

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