More Canadians were set to make the journey to safety from Gaza at the Rafah crossing with Egypt on Wednesday, only to learn that the border was closed again.
The U.S. State Department said it was closed due to an unspecified “security circumstance.”
Global Affairs Canada said late Tuesday that 40 Canadians, permanent residents and family members were on the latest list of those approved to exit the war-torn Gaza Strip, after the first such group of 75 left on Tuesday.
Canadian Mohammed-sharif Alghusain, now in Cairo with his wife and two daughters, said he lost everything he had in Gaza in a single day
“I literally have nothing to go back to, except my parents that I’m trying my best to get out of there,” said Alghusain, who is also preoccupied with getting his diabetic daughter some insulin. He said his parents have had one traumatic experience after another.
“The house they were in had 70 people. It was awful, but they had to move again because they heard there would be bombardment beside them. So they had to gather whatever was left and move to another house.”
Suhail Saqqa, who has permanent residency in Canada and is on the exit list, talked to CBC News on Wednesday while he and others waited to cross, before news of the latest closure was announced.
He described life in Gaza as “terrible” and “not a place to live anymore.” Like so many others, he described looking forward to leaving, but was feeling distressed about the state of the territory since Israel announced its “complete siege” of Gaza in response to the deadly Hamas attack in southern Israel on Oct. 7.
“I’m happy because I’m leaving with my family alive,” he said. “I’m not happy because everything’s destroyed in our home and Gaza…. They destroyed everything — schools, the houses, the streets, infrastructure, everything has been destroyed.”
Mother and newborn baby escape to Egypt
Others spoke of wondering whether an exit would even become a reality. The uncertainty weighed heavily on Ahmad Abualjedian, a visually impaired Canadian permanent resident in Brantford, Ont. His newborn daughter and wife, who were in Gaza, are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents.
Abualjedian learned they were able to leave Gaza on Tuesday and had boarded a bus to the Canadian Embassy in Cairo.
“It’s not a dream anymore, it’s real. My wife and daughter are very safe now and they’ll be joining me here, so what can get better than that?” he told CBC News.
When Abualjedian spoke to CBC News last Thursday, he said Global Affairs couldn’t help with a departure for his wife and their baby, Sila. A few days later, he said someone from the department called him back and told him they were reopening his file.
In an earlier interview, he said the hospital in Gaza where his daughter was born on Oct. 23 was so crowded that his wife had to give birth on the floor.
On Wednesday, his wife, Yara, spoke of anxiety-filled moments when she went into labour and she and her mother didn’t know whether they would be able to reach a hospital in Gaza. Once they arrived, she said she ended up giving birth in the waiting room.
Other Canadians, like Hussam Alaloul, spoke on the Gaza side of the border of how they were looking forward to reuniting with family.
“I have so many relatives in London, Ont., and Canada, and I thought I would never have the chance to meet with them again,” Alaloul said.
Canada’s ambassador to Egypt said getting everyone out will not be easy.
“That’s going to be a real challenge,” Louis Dumas said. “Honestly, I want to be realistic and I don’t want to over-promise, but it’s going to be a long process. So we have to keep in mind that we have hundreds [of Canadians] still in Gaza.”
“Canada does not determine when or how many persons can cross each day,” Global Affairs said in a late afternoon statement on Tuesday. “As the situation is quite fluid and unpredictable, Canadians should be prepared for significant delays at the Rafah border.”
“Canadians who were at the border today for crossing were contacted, and we are hopeful the border will reopen tomorrow to allow them to cross. Canada does not determine when or how many persons can cross each day,” Global Affairs said in a statement Wednesday.
The government of Egypt will allow those who cross into Egypt from Gaza to stay in the country for a maximum of 72 hours, the statement said.
“Canadian officials are on the Egyptian side of the border to facilitate transportation to Cairo by bus and help with onward travel to Canada. While in Cairo, Canada will provide accommodation, food and basic necessities to those who cross from Gaza into Egypt,” it said.
The crossing was first opened to foreign nationals last Wednesday under an apparent agreement between the United States, Egypt, Israel and Qatar, which mediates with Hamas. The border was closed on the weekend and reopened late on Monday to some foreigners.