Canadians wait to flee Gaza Strip as border crossing reopens for approved evacuees

Canadians in the Gaza Strip who were told they might be able to get out of the besieged Palestinian territory over the weekend are instead still waiting for their chance to escape.

The Rafah border crossing into Egypt — closed in recent days amid escalating attacks from Israel — reopened Monday to allow the departure of foreigners whose names were on a preapproved list, according to the General Authority for Border Crossings in Gaza.

It's not clear how long the crossing will remain open, Global Affairs Canada warned in a written update Monday.

Approved evacuation lists from the border authority, as presented on a widely shared Google spreadsheet, did not include the names of any Canadians as of early Monday.

The Palestinian civilian-affairs arm of the Israeli military told Canada last week that more than 400 Canadians would be able to cross the border from Gaza into Egypt in the coming days.

Meanwhile, Global Affairs Canada is in contact with 600 Canadian citizens, permanent residents and their family members in the territory. "Canada is actively engaging authorities to include other affected Canadians and their families for future crossings."

Global Affairs said Monday it was aware of reports of four Canadians leaving Gaza through the Rafah crossing with the help of third parties, but has not released details for privacy reasons.

In Canada, two women trying to help loved ones leave Gaza said they had received information from Global Affairs that trapped Canadians were tentatively scheduled to start leaving as early as Tuesday.

Israel's military has said it has encircled Gaza City and divided the besieged coastal strip into two as it continues its war against Hamas.

London, Ont., resident Samah Al Sabbagh said she was worried about how her 73-year-old father, who is a Canadian citizen, would get from Gaza City in the north to the Rafah crossing in the south after Israel severed northern Gaza from the rest of the strip.

"He's just very anxious. He's just waiting. He's waiting to get out," she said in a phone interview Monday.

"Things are getting worse and worse every day … I talked to him this morning, 3 o'clock in the morning, and he said it's getting really bad."

Global Affairs also warned of a "fluid and unpredictable" situation at the Rafah crossing, Al Sabbagh said. She was still waiting for word about how the Canadian government could help her father move toward the border crossing, she added.

"Nobody has reached out from the government, from the Global Affairs, telling us how they're going to support him move from north to south," she said.

"Every time I talk to Global Affairs, I asked them that same question: 'How are you going to help him get down from the north to the south?' And they said, 'Well, there's nothing we can do.'"

Dalia Salim, who has been relaying messages from Ottawa to her 66-year-old father in Gaza, said she also heard about tentative plans for a Tuesday crossing. If it happens, a new communications blackout in the territory has her worried that her father won't know.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he thanked Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on Sunday for supporting the departure of foreign nationals from Gaza, including Canadians and their families.

The Rafah border crossing is the only exit point 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 brutal Oct. 7 incursion by Hamas.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 6, 2023.

The Canadian Press