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Leaders respond to Israel-Gaza conflict

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An apartment in Kiryat Malachi that was struck by a rocket fired from Gaza. [Israel Sun photo]

As fighting continued between Hamas and Israel over the weekend, Canadian and world leaders issued responses to the conflict.

On Parliament Hill, leaders of the government and opposition parties all commented on the situation.

Late last week, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird reaffirmed the Canada’s support of Israel’s right to protect itself against “terrorist threats.”

“Far too often, the Jewish People find themselves on the front lines in the struggle against terrorism, the great struggle of our generation,” he said. “Canada condemns the terrorist group Hamas and stands with Israel as it deals with regional threats to peace and security.”

Leader of the Opposition, New Democratic Party MP Thomas Mulcair, released a Nov. 15 statement asking both Israel and Hamas to exercise “restraint” and to “respect international humanitarian law obligations to protect civilians at all times.”

He also asked the Canadian government to “pursue a balanced and constructive approach in the Middle East.”

Bob Rae, interim leader of the Liberal party, called on Hamas to halt all rocket attacks on Israel, indicating the Liberal position is that the Gaza-based entity was responsible for provoking the Jewish state via its frequent barrages against Israel for more than a year.

“The terrorist group Hamas must take responsibility for these acts of violence out of Gaza and order them to stop,” Rae said in a Nov. 14 statement. “We recognize Israel’s right to defend its population, and we also urge that parties involved take all possible steps to protect civilian life and work to implement a ceasefire.”

Canadian Jewish community representatives also weighed in on the escalating the situation in Israel.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ (CIJA) CEO Shimon Fogel said his organization was happy to see “cross-partisan support” for Israel.

“Sadly, the constant missile fire from Hamas has proven not only a threat to Israelis, but a threat to the Palestinians themselves. Hamas has a choice – it can remain committed to its fantasy of destroying the Jewish state, or it can choose the path of peace and take constructive steps to build a future for the Palestinians,” he told The CJN.

The centre also sent out a first-person update via e-mail on Nov. 17, from its Jerusalem-based office director, David Weinberg.

In it, Weinberg describes living through numerous Code Red missile alerts in Israel over the weekend.

Up until last week, Jerusalem had never been targeted by Israel’s enemies. Hamas fired a missile at it last Friday.

“People in Jerusalem, Maale Adumim and Gush Etzion were shocked to hear the ‘Code Red’ missile warning sirens go off Friday evening as Shabbat began. The missile fell near my brother’s home in Tekoa in the Gush Etzion bloc of settlements south of Jerusalem,” he wrote.

Weinberg added that Israel’s national hospital, the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, was placed on emergency standby and had activated a series of underground bombproof operating rooms and a maternity ward.

“Dozens of doctors have been called-up for reserve duty in the army, and the IDF has stationed 50 of its paramedical staff at the hospital to help out with the [expected] incoming wounded,” he added, noting that as of the weekend, most Israelis anticipated the IDF to begin a ground campaign in Gaza.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama on Sunday stated his country fully backs Israel’s reaction to Hamas’ provocation.

Speaking at a news conference in Bangkok, Thailand, on Sunday, the president stood firmly behind Israel.

“If we’re serious about wanting to resolve this situation and create a genuine peace process, it starts with no more missiles being fired into Israel’s territory, and that then gives us the space to try to deal with these longstanding conflicts that exist,” Obama said on the first leg of his tour of Asian countries.

Obama said he had spoken multiple times with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who happened to be visiting Egypt during the current crisis.

Both leaders are among a handful of nations that have close ties with the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip.

Obama repeated his assertion that Hamas and other terrorist groups were responsible for the recent intensification of the violence.

“Let’s understand what the precipitating event here was that’s causing the current crisis, and that was an ever-escalating number of missiles,” the U.S. leader said. “They were landing not just in Israeli territory, but in areas that are populated. And there’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.

“So we are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians. And we will continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself.”

Obama said he was “actively” working with all parties to end the missile fire, and he wanted to see progress by midweek.

“What I’ve said to President Morsi and Prime Minister Erdogan is that those who champion the cause of the Palestinians should recognize that if we see a further escalation of the situation in Gaza, then the likelihood of us getting back on any kind of peace track that leads to a two-state solution is going to be pushed off way into the future,” he said. 

As of writing, rumours of a brokered ceasefire were rampant, though reports out of Israel indicated the possibility of such an occurrence was still a long way off.

On Monday, Hamas’ leader in exile, Khaled Mashaal, brushed off a halt to bombings as Israeli airstrikes hit a Gaza media centre and killed several leaders of Islamic Jihad.

The Israel Air Force’s strike Monday evening – the second on the centre in two days – killed Ramaz Harab, a top leader of Islamic Jihad’s military wing, the Al Quds Brigades. At least three other Islamic Jihad leaders were in the building when it was hit, according to the Israel Defence Forces.

Hamas’ main television station, Al Aksa, is located on the top floor of the high-rise building. 

In Cairo, meanwhile, Maashal said Monday during an hour-long news conference that “whoever started the war must end it.”

He told reporters that Netanyahu requested a ceasefire, a claim that Israel has denied, according to reports. 

Maashal said there is a new spirit of co-operation among Palestinian factions due to the Israeli operation, which began on Nov. 14 in response to Hamas missile volleys against Israel.

“Israel is the common enemy. Confrontation with the enemy is our moment of truth,” he said. “We must end the political divide and unite around common institutions and around resistance to Israel. Our enemy cannot be treated with words, but only by force. No concessions should be made with Israel, given the new atmosphere in the Arab world.”

In related news, the Jewish Federations of North America last week committed $5 million for an Israeli terrorism relief fund to help Israeli victims of the conflict with Hamas in Israel’s south.

The money from the federation umbrella organization will go toward trauma counselling, financial assistance, portable bomb shelters and the transport of children in the conflict zone out of harm’s way.

The organization has set up a texting system to donate to the Jewish Agency's Fund for the Victims of Terror in Israel (text ISRAEL to 51818) and said that 100 per cent of the money raised will go toward aid. The group is also working with its partner agencies in Israel, including the Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Israel Trauma Coalition and World ORT to assist Israelis in the line of fire.

Canadian federations are also collecting funds for Israelis affected by the conflict.

“All of our Canadian federations and communities have launched special relief fund efforts to support very specific need in Israel at this time. People can contact their local federations to contribute. Where there is no local federation, they can contact us,” Linda Kislowicz, CEO of Jewish Federations of Canada – UIA told The CJN.

– With files from JTA

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