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Canada's defence minister says Hamas a threat to world, must be 'eliminated'

OTTAWA — Canada does not believe Hamas would respect a ceasefire in its conflict with Israel, Defence Minister Bill Blair said Tuesday as he provided the most clarity to date on why the Liberal government has not called for one.
Defence Minister Bill Blair speaks with reporters as he makes his way to cabinet, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023 in Ottawa. Blair says Hamas is a terrorist organization that is a threat to the whole world and must be eliminated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — Canada does not believe Hamas would respect a ceasefire in its conflict with Israel, Defence Minister Bill Blair said Tuesday as he provided the most clarity to date on why the Liberal government has not called for one.

"I have no expectation that a terrorist organization would respect international law or any call for a ceasefire," Blair told reporters in Ottawa before headed into the Liberal cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

Calls for a ceasefire in the latest Israel-Hamas war — including a temporary one, referred to by some as a "pause," to allow in more aid — have grown in recent days as humanitarian organizations warn of a major crisis in the Gaza Strip.

More than a million people have been displaced in the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory, where they face shortages of food, water and fuel after Israel cut off access to supplies and launched airstrikes in response to deadly attacks by Hamas militants.

Canada has listed Hamas as a terrorist entity since 2002 and has no dealings with any of its leaders. The Liberal government has said that Israel has the right to defend itself against attacks by Hamas while respecting international law.

Hundreds of Hamas militants staged an attack by land and air in southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,400 people, including hundreds at an outdoor music festival, as well as injuring more than 4,500 and taking over 200 people hostage. Palestinian authorities say more than 5,000 people have since died in Gaza during Israel's response.

On Tuesday, the secretary-general of the United Nations called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to deliver desperately needed food, water, medicine and fuel. During the UN Security Council's monthly meeting on the wider, decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Antonio Guterres appealed "to all to pull back from the brink before the violence claims even more lives and spreads even farther.''

Aid convoys began flowing on the weekend but they are very small and the supplies of food and fuel they carry limited. The federal government says there about 400 people with a connection to Canada, including citizens, permanent residents and close relatives, currently in Gaza.

Canadian ministers had avoided using the word ceasefire to date, though Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly said Monday there should be a "de-escalation," particularly because of fears the conflict is growing beyond just Gaza.

But on Tuesday morning, Blair went further than that, saying that as long as Hamas exists, it is a threat to Israel.

"I think (Israel has) a right to defend themselves against that terror threat," he told reporters on his way into the cabinet meeting. "And quite frankly, Hamas has to be eliminated as a threat, not just to Israel but to the world."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to continue the battle until Hamas has been destroyed.

Hamas, which has always embraced violence as a way to liberate the occupied Palestinian territories, contributed to the collapse of the attempted peace deal in the mid-1990s that would have seen an independent Palestine and Israel share the land they both lay claim to in what is known as a "two-state solution."

Hamas has controlled Gaza since 2007, two years after Israel withdrew its military and settlements from the territory. Since then, Israel and Egypt have restricted the flow of goods and people, citing Hamas importing weapons. Palestinians have argued the blockade is collective punishment by Israel.

Bob Rae, Canada's ambassador to the United Nations, has also called for the destruction of Hamas.

“Any organization like this has to be destroyed,” Rae wrote on X, the social media platform previously known as Twitter, last Thursday.

His post was in response to a video of Israeli officials becoming emotional as they described a family found killed in their home during the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, their bodies showing signs of torture.

"And no one should condone or excuse or underplay or deny. Dealing with it will require determination and strategy," Rae continued.

But Blair is the first Liberal cabinet minister to suggest Hamas must be "eliminated."

On Friday, Trudeau would not say whether his Liberal government shares that specific goal, as stated by Rae, of destroying Hamas.

Instead, Trudeau noted Canada has long deemed Hamas to be a terrorist organization and called for civilians to be protected and hostages returned.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 24, 2023.

— With files from The Associated Press.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press