At the Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, about 17 kilometres away from the Rafah border, Mansour Shouman hugged and kissed his family as they were set to leave Gaza through the Egyptian crossing on Tuesday morning.
Rafah is the only exit for foreign nationals who wish to leave the Palestinian territory, which has been under constant bombardment since the Israeli army launched retaliatory attacks for the Oct. 7 incursion by Hamas.
Shouman, who has been a Canadian citizen since 2006, received an email from Global Affairs Canada the night before. It said that he, his wife and five children were included on a list of Canadian nationals, and people with ties to this country, given a pass to leave the Palestinian territory.
His family, with children ages four to 16, left through the crossing at 9 a.m. However, Shouman decided to stay put.
"We said, 'We'll see each other very soon,'" Shouman said of the conversation with his children.
"My kids told me, 'Stay steadfast, stay here, this is our land, it's just that now we don't have any food, any water, we're getting sick and there's no medication.'"
A view of the Rafah border crossing point with Egypt, as Palestinians with dual citizenship wait outside the crossing in the hope of getting permission to leave Gaza. (Arafat Barbakh/Reuters)
While he said his older children understood his decision to stay, it was harder for the younger ones.
Shouman said he told his younger children that they need to find their cat Meelo, who ran away when an airstrike hit close to their building.
"They were like, 'Yeah, of course, Meelo is important,'" he said.
Two of Shouman's children were born in Canada, but the family went back to the Palestinian territory last year after seven years in Calgary to be closer to family and live a life that was tied to their Islamic and social norms.
Shouman's decision to stay during the ongoing war was based on a number of things.
Having lived in the West and being able to communicate in English, he said he felt a need to remain in Gaza and communicate with the outside world about what's going on.
He has spoken with several media outlets across the world and has set up social media channels, where he reports what he sees on a day-to-day basis.
Shouman also said he felt an obligation to help those stuck in the territory — medically or in any humanitarian way possible.
Mansour Shouman has been set up in Khan Younis in Gaza, where he spoke with CBC Calgary. (CBC)
Like so many other Palestinians, fears of permanent expulsion from his homeland also occupied his mind.
"We will not repeat what our ancestors did in 1967 and 1948, when they were forced to be refugees," Shouman said.
"We will come back, hopefully when the ceasefire is in place, we will rebuild Gaza together."
Shouman last heard from his family just after they left Gaza and entered Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, where they had around a seven-hour journey ahead of them to get to Cairo. They planned to stay for 72 hours there to figure out their next steps.
Meanwhile, Global Affairs Canada said it was in contact with 600 Canadian citizens, permanent residents and their family members in Gaza.
The federal agency said in a statement Monday the Israeli military has assured Canada that more than 400 of its citizens will be able to cross "in the coming days."
"I know families and loved ones have been waiting anxiously — finally the first group of Canadians were evacuated out of Gaza," Melanie Joly, Canada's minister of foreign affairs, said in a video posted to X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
"They were met by Canadian diplomats on the Egyptian side of the border."
The breakthrough Tuesday came after Canada had told citizens trapped in Gaza that they could be allowed out on the weekend but attacks by Israel closed the Rafah crossing until Monday.
There are 5,759 Canadians listed with the Registration of Canadians Abroad in Israel. In addition, 450 Canadians are registered in the West Bank and Gaza and 18,076 in Lebanon.