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The federal government will begin to airlift Canadian citizens, permanent residents and their families from Tel Aviv by the end of the week, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said Wednesday.
Joly would not confirm whether any Canadians are being held hostage in the Gaza Strip, where militants are holding an estimated 150 people snatched from Israel, but she said three people are missing.
"This is a standing approach we take in any hostage negotiation. We don't confirm. Why? Because we don't want to increase the value of that person in the eyes of their tyrants," Joly said.
Global Affairs Canada's top bureaucrat for consular cases said two Canadians have died and a third is presumed dead.
The war, sparked after Hamas conducted surprise attacks across the Israeli border from Gaza on Saturday, has already claimed more than 2,200 lives.
Canadian Armed Forces flights from Tel Aviv to Athens are to be scheduled in the coming days, and the federal government says it will then help arrange passage on flights from Athens back to Canada.
"Usually when there are still commercial flights, we don't do assisted departure," Joly said.
"This is quite rare."
She said the government felt it needed to step in because so many commercial flights from Israel were cancelled or delayed.
Chief of the defence staff Gen. Wayne Eyre said Wednesday morning the first Polaris plane would land in Athens within an hour.
Polaris planes are expected to run a shuttle service between Tel Aviv and Athens, with the frequency of the flights dependent on demand, he said.
As of Tuesday night, Joly said there were 4,249 Canadians registered in Israel and another 476 in the West Bank and Gaza.
Global Affairs Canada's head of consular cases, Julie Sunday, said "there are Canadians in Gaza" but they are a minority among the 476 people registered in both Palestinian territories.
Israel is conducting airstrikes in Gaza, in retaliation for the weekend assault, and has cut access to water and power in what its officials describe as a total siege. The United Nations warned on Tuesday that this violates international humanitarian law, since it blocks access to the essentials of life.
Joly repeated calls Wednesday for all parties to support international humanitarian law, but would not say whether she opposes Israel's actions in Gaza.
"We call upon all parties, also, to be able to provide humanitarian access to Palestinian civilians," she said.
Canada lists Hamas as a terrorist group and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has asserted that Israel has a right to defend itself.
Joly said Canada aims to work with the United Nations if there is an evacuation from Gaza.
"But at this point there has been no information coming from the UN regarding an evacuation," she said, adding that she has been in touch with her counterpart in Jordan to discuss options for people in the West Bank.
Officials urged Canadians in the region to register with Global Affairs in order to receive information on the airlift.
The Associated Press reports that Israel is urging people in the north to take shelter after "hostile aircraft" entered from Lebanon.
Joly said she "won't speculate" on whether Ottawa will need to evacuate citizens from Lebanon if that country is involved in a conflict.
She said Wednesday morning that she aimed to be in contact with Lebanese officials later in the day.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 11, 2023.
— With files from The Associated Press.
This is a corrected story. A previous version said three Canadians have died in the violence in the region.