Hamas hostage deal is 'progress' but long-term peace needs 'many more steps': Trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continued Thursday to reject demands for Canada to call for a full ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war, but said a deal this week to temporarily halt hostilities so some hostages can be released is a sign of progress.

Hostages in Gaza, detainees in Israeli jails released as truce between Israel and Hamas holds

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a microphone.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a reception at the Quidi Vidi Brewery in St. John's on Thursday, November 23, 2023. (Paul Daly/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continued Thursday to reject demands for Canada to call for a full ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war, but said a deal this week to temporarily halt hostilities so some hostages can be released is a sign of progress.

"I continue to call for a need for lasting peace in the region, including a two-state solution," Trudeau said at a news conference in St. John's, N.L.

"We've been calling for weeks for a significant humanitarian pause. It is progress that we have that right now. But there are many more steps we're going to have to take on together."

Several people are shown at a nighttime gathering outside, some holding signs and waving flags.
People react as they hear news of the release of 13 Israeli hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza strip in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (Ariel Schalit/The Associated Press)

Hamas, which Canada deems a terrorist organization, has so far freed 24 people, including 13 Israeli women and children, 10 people from Thailand and one person from the Philippines.

Israel confirmed Friday that it has released 39 Palestinian prisoners in line with the truce deal.

Hamas captured about 240 hostages when its militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people, including hundreds of civilians.

An official at Global Affairs Canada confirmed to the Senate foreign affairs committee this week that one Canadian woman is still missing.

The pause in fighting is a respite for millions displaced or injured by Israel's retaliation campaign in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, where local health authorities say 13,300 Palestinians have been killed and another 6,000 people are missing.

Trudeau did not specify Friday why he does not support a ceasefire. Defence Minister Bill Blair said last month he didn't think Hamas would respect one and the organization must "be eliminated as a threat, not just to Israel, but to the world."

On Parliament Hill, groups supporting Palestinians are continuing to call for a ceasefire, saying there needs to be time to build housing for the 1.7 million people the United Nations says have been displaced in Gaza.

Crowds raise red, white and green flags with a red triangle during a nighttime rally outside of a highrise.
A pro-Palestinian protest outside of the Embassy of Israel in downtown Ottawa on Oct. 18, 2023. (Jillian Renouf/CBC)

Fahamia Koudra, a board member at Human Concern International, said her colleagues in the region have seen an increase in deaths from dehydration and vaccine-preventable illness.

"Winter is coming and there is no sanitation or water," she said at a news conference Friday morning.

"A four-day pause is not even enough to retrieve bodies from the rubble. Without a ceasefire, mass casualties will exponentially increase without the desperately needed supplies and (with) devastated infrastructure."

On Thursday, Ottawa resident Hany Elbatnigi recounted horrifying scenes in Gaza, which he left on Nov. 7, at a news conference on Parliament Hill.

"I won the lottery of life. I was one of the lucky ones to leave for safety to Cairo," he said.

"I left behind the smell of death, the horrifying sounds of explosion and the sight of dogs eating the flesh of the dead bodies."

Elbatnigi said his family left home after Israeli military airstrikes bombarded his neighbourhood. They stayed in homes crammed with dozens of people for days at a time, progressively moving south toward the Egyptian border.

He said 71 members of his extended family have been killed in Gaza and he learned Wednesday that his niece and her two children have died.

A man standing on rubble while two others speak to him from the opening of an opposite destroyed residential building.
Palestinians inspect the rubble of a destroyed building in the Nusseirat refugee camp. (Adel Hana/The Associated Press)

"Too many of them were barely taller than my waist," he said.

Elbatnigi lamented Canada's support for Israel during its war and the communications from consular officials.

"There was very little information provided and even less help," he said. "Instead, there were many public statements that Canada supported Israeli attacks while my family and I were still in harm's way."

Elbatnigi said he is pushing officials to get his injured sister out of Gaza, and for an end to the hostilities.

"I cannot help them, but the least I can do is to ask my government to call for a ceasefire. The people of Gaza deserve to be lucky like me."