Canadian leaders back Israel as Harper stays silent on Gaza

In the nearly two weeks since Israel began its latest air strikes in Gaza, humanitarian groups and activists around the world have condemned Israel’s actions and called for a cease-fire. Meanwhile, many Canadian politicians appear to condone the offensive route being taken by Israel.

Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon has spoken on behalf of the Conservative government in regards to Canada’s position on the conflict. In a statement released on December 27, Cannon said: “Israel has a clear right to defend itself against the continued rocket attacks by Palestinian militant groups which have deliberately targeted civilians.” He urged both sides to create conditions that would allow humanitarian aide to be accessed by those who need it in Gaza but insisted that “first and foremost those rocket attacks must stop”.

Israel’s attacks on the densely populated Gaza Strip began on December 26, and escalated into a ground offensive on January 3. The number of Palestinians killed and injured continues to grow each day. According to BBC News, at least 683 have been killed and more than 3,085 injured.

Forty people were killed and 55 were injured yesterday (January 6) when Israeli mortar fire struck the UN-run al-Fakhura school in the Jabaliya refugee camp.

Canada’s junior foreign minister, Peter Kent, commented on the strike in an interview this week with the Globe and Mail, stating that Hamas “bears the full responsibility for the deepening humanitarian tragedy”. Despite the lack of information available from Gaza, due to an Israeli ban on journalists entering the war-torn territory, Kent insisted that Hamas is the root cause of the civilian fatalities.

“We really don’t have complete details yet, other than the fact that we know that Hamas has made a habit of using civilians and civilian infrastructure as shields for their terrorist activities, and that would seem to be the case again today,” he said.

Some members of Parliament have not been as quick to blame Hamas for the deaths. In an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper dated yesterday, Vancouver East MP Libby Davies urged the Canadian government to condemn the attacks and demand an immediate cease-fire.

“The lack of leadership from the Canadian government is shameful in the face of such events,” Davies stated.

Davies said she has received many messages from her constituents who were “outraged that Canada has done nothing”.

The Foreign Affairs Department had tried to help 36 Canadians leave the region on January 5, but the Israeli Defence Force, which controls movement in the area, stopped the operation. Speaking after a government caucus meeting, Cannon stated that security measures prevented them from helping those who wanted to return to Canada safely, according to the Canadian Press.

Today, Canada donated $4 million toward the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, giving $3 million to the United Nations relief effort and another $1 million to the Red Cross, according to CP.

The leader of the Opposition, Michael Ignatieff, also released a statement concurring with the view of the Conservatives and the majority of western politicians.

“The Liberal Party of Canada unequivocally condemns the rocket attacks launched by Hamas against Israeli civilians and calls for an immediate end to their attacks,” Ignatieff stated on December 29.

He called for Canada to provide humanitarian aid but held firm on his stance that Israel has the right to defend itself against the attacks.

As of today, no official statements have been made by Harper on the matter, who has remained quiet on the conflict in Gaza.

However, Harper found time to express congratulations to Canada’s World Junior Hockey team in two separate news releases on the Conservative Party of Canada Web site.

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