The family of three Canadian men says they were taken from their home in the Gaza Strip during an overnight raid by Israeli forces, as Ottawa confirms it is aware of reports that a citizen has gone missing.
Yasmeen Elagha told The Canadian Press from Chicago that her uncle and two American-born cousins are missing.
Ahmed Alagha was born in Canada, Elagha said, and lived in Toronto with his American-born sons Borak, 18, and Hashem, 20, before they moved to Gaza in the mid-2000s.
She said all three men have Canadian citizenship, and they were kidnapped by Israeli forces early Thursday.
“They have so many people who are asking about them in Canada. They left such a big impression on their community there when they lived in Toronto,” Elagha said.
She added that three younger children, who are also Canadian citizens, and their mother Samar, who has Canadian permanent residency, were not taken.
In an interview on Thursday, she criticized Canada’s response to the incident, decrying a lack of urgency and poor communication.
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In response to a question about an Associated Press report earlier Thursday that said a Canadian man and his two American sons had gone missing, Global Affairs Canada said it was aware of reports that one Canadian citizen had gone missing.
The department said it is providing consular assistance to the family but couldn’t share more because of privacy considerations.
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Global Affairs did not immediately respond to further questions about the number of Canadian citizens believed missing and Elagha’s criticism.
Elagha said Israeli forces entered the family home in the community of al-Muwasi, near the southern city of Khan Younis, at around 5 a.m. Gaza time on Thursday.
The soldiers tied up and blindfolded the women and children in the family and placed them outside the home, she said.
The trio, along with a mentally disabled uncle and two other adult male relatives, were taken away by the Israelis and remain missing, Elagha said.
Men of a neighbouring household were also taken away. So were other adult male relatives of another Alagha household, for a total of about 20, the U.S. cousin said.
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She described them as hostages rather than detainees, citing the family’s lack of information on the reason they were taken or where Israeli forces are holding them.
U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the administration will “be talking to our Israeli counterparts” about the reported detentions.
The State Department said Thursday it was seeking more information on the reported detentions. It cited privacy concerns for the brothers in not commenting further.
More than 27,000 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, have been killed in the ongoing Israeli military offensive in Gaza, according to Palestinian health officials in the Hamas-ruled territory.
The latest war started when Hamas militants stormed Israel four months ago, killing about 1,200 people and taking roughly 250 hostages.
Nearly 85 per cent of the Gaza Strip’s population has been displaced during the conflict, with a huge number of people now crowding the area just outside the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.
Foreign nationals, including Canadians, have been able to leave the besieged territory by way of that tightly controlled border crossing, though only on certain dates and after an opaque vetting process involving multiple governments.
Elagha said she successfully got her grandparents out of Gaza as they were Canadian citizens, but she criticized Canadian officials for being hard to reach at the time.
She said the same problem arose this week, alleging Global Affairs Canada is not taking the situation seriously.
“Canada has been giving very boilerplate-language responses. We haven’t received anything substantive,” Elagha said.
“It doesn’t seem to be responding to the urgency of the matter of these Canadian lives at stake.”
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The news comes as a Palestinian-Canadian who was reported missing in the Gaza Strip emerged Monday after two weeks of losing contact with relatives.
Mansour Shouman opted against following his wife and children in leaving Gaza, instead staying to document the humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian enclave amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.
Shouman was said to have been taken by Israeli forces, though he said in a video posted online that he had instead left his phone behind while heading out to check on a project, and then had to shelter in several locations during a series of attacks.
Elagha said she is hoping her relatives turn up safe. For now, she’s fuming at Ottawa’s “hypocritical” statements about prioritizing the safety of citizens abroad.
“The Canadian government has a duty to protect the citizens abroad, and it is fully failing that duty,” she said. “It feels like a betrayal.”
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