Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee
Ottawa Cautions Israel On Gaza; Ambassador rejects scolding as ‘irresponsible’

National Post
Mon 03 Mar 2008
Page: A1
Section: News
Byline: Bal Brach And Glenn Johnson

Canada expressed concerns yesterday at the growing escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip, admonishing Israel for its military operations and condemning Hamas and other groups for unprovoked attacks.

But a strongly worded diplomatic caution from Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier, who said Canada is concerned about the Israeli measures in retaliation–including military operations that impact civilians — immediately drew a sharp response.

Israeli ambassador Alan Baker rejected the public scolding from Canada as "irresponsible allegations and insinuations" and said the use of such force is necessary.

Tensions continued to mount yesterday as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed to continue the ground-and-air operation that has killed 70 Palestinians since Saturday and earned Israel international condemnation for disproportionate use of force. At the same time, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas severed all contacts with the Jewish state over the blitz that threatens to sink peace talks.

Mr. Bernier said Canada deplored the loss of life and suffering on both sides of the dispute, but he urged Israel to consider the impact of its response to rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel.

"Israel has a clear right to defend itself, including against terrorists plotting attacks. That said, we are very concerned by the impact on civilians of measures taken by the government of Israel, such as increased military operations, restrictions on border crossings and reductions in the delivery of vital goods and services," Mr. Bernier said in a statement.

"It is clear that Hamas and other groups responsible for the growing number of rockets fired on Israel are determined to target civilians and create even more instability and misery. These actions are deplorable. CanadaIsrael. Palestinian militants must stop their terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, and all Palestinian leaders must urge them to do so. Israel must take better measures to protect civilians and to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access to the population in need in the Gaza Strip." calls on those groups to stop immediately for the sake of those suffering both in the Gaza Strip and in

In response, Mr. Baker said, "Israel rejects the irresponsible allegations and insinuations as if its response to these barrages is excessive. Israel is duty-bound to protect its citizens and will do so as it considers necessary to put an end to the bombings."

The Israeli embassy in Ottawa said more than 2,000 rockets have been launched into Israel by terrorists in the Gaza Strip since 2007, with the sole intention of killing Israeli civilians.

"Over time, the rockets have only become more powerful, with a range that puts 250,000 Israelis in immediate danger," said Israeli embassy spokeswoman Orit Kremer. "Israel is interested in continuing diplomatic negotiations, but we’ve made it clear from the beginning that negotiations will not be conducted at the expense of our right to self-defence."

Norash Raghubeer, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Democracies, said the comments from Mr. Bernier are "unfortunate" and "naive."

"I find it sad and dismaying that the Minister chooses to lecture Israel as it seeks to fulfill its sovereign right to protect its citizens. One would have hoped that the Minister would have been clear and stood by Israel unequivocally," the executive director said.

"If Canada was to have 3,000 rockets raining down on any city in our country, I would expect our government to defend our sovereign state as well as our citizens from such terrorists’ attacks."

The assault on Gaza is around an area run by Hamas, an organization that, along with Hezbollah, refuses to accept Israel’s right to exist and has been listed as a terrorist organization by many Western countries. Seven more Palestinians, including one civilian, were killed early yesterday in the continuing air -and-ground blitz aimed at halting rocket fire at Israeli towns from the Gaza Strip, medics said.

The UN Security Council condemned the violence and urged both sides to respect their obligations under international law.

Members "underscore the need for all parties to immediately cease all acts of violence," read a statement following five hours of talks in New York. The statement also said the violence should not derail peace talks.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon slammed Israel’s "disproportionate and excessive use of force."

The announcement by Mr. Abbas to suspend all contact with Israel comes just days before U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is to arrive in the region on her latest attempt to push forward the troubled peace negotiations.

Idnumber: 200803030044
Edition: National
Story Type: News
Note: Editorial, Page A12.