Canada says Israel likely didn’t strike Gaza hospital

Ottawa –

Ottawa has a “high degree of confidence” that Israel did not strike the al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City on Tuesday after an independent review by the Canadian military, Defence Minister Bill Blair said in a statement late Saturday evening.

Canada believes the more likely scenario is that the strike was caused by an “errant rocket” fired from the Gaza Strip, Blair’s statement said.

The pronouncement from Ottawa came days after the United States said its own review found that Israel was not responsible for the hospital blast, which the Gaza Health Ministry said killed hundreds of people.

President Joe Biden said during a visit to Israel on Wednesday that he was confident the “other team” bore responsibility.

On Thursday, facing pressure to provide Canada’s position on the matter, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government was taking “all necessary steps” to form its own understanding of what happened.

The Canadian Forces Intelligence Command conducted its own “review and analysis” at the prime minister’s request, Blair’s statement said.

A statement from the Department of National Defence on Saturday evening said that the analysis was based on open source and classified reporting.

“This assessment is informed by an analysis of the blast damage to the hospital complex, including adjacent buildings and the area surrounding the hospital, as well as the flight pattern of the incoming munition,” the statement read.

Reporting from Canada’s allies corroborates the findings, the Defence Department added.

The defence minister promised the government would “continue to provide updates as new information becomes available,” and reiterated Canada’s “sincere condolences” to all who lost loved ones in the explosion.

In the wake of the blast on Oct. 17, Hamas had quickly blamed an Israeli military airstrike for the carnage. But Israel subsequently released images that it said proved it was caused by a misfire from Gaza.

A senior French military official told The Associated Press on Friday that its own review of the intelligence also found Israel was not responsible, while the United Nations called for an independent investigation.

The latest conflict had begun 10 days earlier when Hamas militants crossed the border into Israel and conducted a series of brazen attacks on civilians.

Israel retaliated, raining airstrikes down on the Gaza Strip and putting the territory under siege. Its military is said to be preparing for a ground assault.

The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry says more than 4,300 people have been killed in Gaza in total. More than 1,400 in Israel have been killed, most of them slain in the surprise Oct. 7 attacks.

The Canadian government has deemed Hamas a terrorist entity since 2002.

Earlier on Saturday, the Canadian government announced it would provide an additional $50 million for humanitarian assistance in the Gaza Strip as the region’s border crossing with Egypt opened to let in a trickle of desperately needed aid.

International Development Minister Ahmed Hussen issued a statement from Cairo, Egypt, saying the federal government will ensure none of the money goes to Hamas.

Hussen said the money will be used to provide the Palestinian population with food, water, medical assistance, protection services and other life-saving aid.

“The critical and immediate needs of civilians affected by the crisis become clearer with each day that goes by,” Hussen’s statement said.

“As Canada’s partners make their growing needs known, this new assistance will allow us to provide them funding quickly so they can scale up their efforts to help people in urgent need.”

The pledge, on top of $10 million Canada already committed, is expected to be sent to humanitarian organizations already in the war-ravaged area.

On Saturday, Hussen was attending a peace summit in Cairo with Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly.

The ministers issued a joint statement saying they planned to reiterate Canada’s condemnation of the Hamas attacks on Israel while also highlighting Canada’s concerns over the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza, which is home to 2.3 million people.

“We are gravely concerned by the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, which continues to deteriorate,” Joly told the meeting.

“We are encouraged by the news this morning that food, fuel and water being able to enter Gaza, but we need to see more.”

Just 20 trucks carrying humanitarian aid were allowed to enter Gaza from Egypt on Saturday. Aid agencies say their loads won’t be enough to address the needs of the population, which is now rationing food and drinking dirty water.

More than 200 trucks carrying aid have been waiting at the border for days.

About half of Gaza’s residents have fled their homes. Hospitals are running low on medical supplies and fuel for generators amid widespread blackouts exacerbated by waves of Israeli airstrikes. Meanwhile, Palestinian militants continue to fire rockets into Israel.

Israel had insisted nothing would enter Gaza until Hamas released all the captives from its Oct. 7 attack on towns in southern Israel. Hamas freed its first captives, an American woman and her teenage daughter, late Friday.

Joly said both sides in the conflict must respect international humanitarian law.

“Even in times of crisis, there are principles. Even in times of war, there are rules,” she said Saturday. “Palestinians and Israeli civilians are equal and both must be protected.”

As well, she said the 400 Canadians still in Gaza must be able to return home.

“In the fog of war, it is always hard to see the light of day on the horizon, but we need to see it,” Joly said. “We should not be scared about talking about the next steps. Canada will always stand up for human rights.”

Joly said she plans to meet with staff at the Canadian embassy in Cairo to discuss their efforts to support Canadians in the region, including their work to help Canadians leave Gaza.

The peace summit includes dozens of regional leaders and other senior western officials, with a focus on de-escalating the fighting and seeking a ceasefire.

Tensions have been rising as the Lebanese militant organization Hezbollah has been trading fire with Israel since the war began, even threatening to join the fight if the Israeli military goes ahead with an expected ground invasion of Gaza.

About 14,500 Canadians are registered with the federal government as being in Lebanon. Global Affairs Canada is urging all of them to get out of the country while they still can. Meanwhile, the Canadian Armed Forces is preparing for possible evacuations.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2023.

— With files from The Associated Press and Michael MacDonald in Halifax.

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