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Canadian officials react to the violence in Gaza

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Palestinian protesters during clashes with Israeli forces near the Gaza-Israel border in Rafah, Gaza on May 14, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90 photo)

After Israeli military forces killed dozens of protesters in Gaza on May 14, Canadian Jewish groups and politicians were quick to weigh in.

The violence began when tens of thousands of Palestinians rushed the Gaza border fence, some with flaming kites and explosives. Israel Defence Forces killed more than 50 Palestinians and injured more than 2,700, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, marking the most violent and fatal day for Palestinians since the 2014 Gaza war.

The hostilities broke out on the same day that the United States government officially opened its embassy in Jerusalem, a move spearheaded by President Donald Trump to coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary.

READ: GAZA PROTESTS DELAYED AS FUNERALS TAKE PLACE FOR AT LEAST 58

“Big day for Israel,” Trump tweeted. “Congratulations!”

The Canadian government, however, refrained from commenting too strongly on either the protests or the embassy move in the immediate aftermath of the events.

The lone comment came from Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who wrote on Twitter that she was “deeply concerned by violence in Gaza Strip,” calling the deaths of children, journalists and civilians “inexcusable.”

“All parties to the conflict have a responsibility to ensure civilians are protected,” she added.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded with a statement on Wednesday, specifically mentioning the Canadian-Palestinian doctor Tarek Loubani, who was shot by Israeli forces in the skirmish.

“Canada deplores and is gravely concerned by the violence in the Gaza Strip that has led to a tragic loss of life and injured countless people,” the prime minister said.

“We are doing everything we can to assist Dr. Loubani and his family, and to determine how a Canadian citizen came to be injured. We are engaging with Israeli officials to get to the bottom of these events.”

Freeland’s vague response, and Trudeau’s immediate silence, angered many on the political left, including the New Democratic Party.

In a statement, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was adamant in his condemnation of Israel’s handling of the situation and critical of the Canadian government’s muted response.

Jagmeet Singh in 2014. BGM RIDING ASSOCIATION PHOTO

“The use of live ammunition against protestors and resulting deaths are clear violations of international law and human rights,” he said.

“Our government has been shamefully silent on recent developments in Gaza, and the prime minister should condemn the violence, call on Israel to cease violations of international law and support an independent investigation into these deaths.”

Karen Mock, chair of JSpace Canada, a progressive Jewish organization, said in a statement: “We are deeply disturbed over the rising death toll in Gaza this past day. Israel has a right to defend itself, but must never use lethal force against unarmed protesters.”

She added that Hamas bears responsibility for “mixing armed combatants with peaceful demonstrators and encouraging Gazans to breach the border fence.”

While the Tories did not make a formal statement, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has said in the past that he would, if elected, follow in Trump’s footsteps and move Canada’s embassy to Jerusalem.

Stephen Harper speaks at an Israel Bonds event held at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Westmount, Que., on May 14. (Janice Arnold/The CJN)

Former prime minister Stephen Harper, speaking in a Montreal synagogue hours after the violence broke out, said Trump “deserves immense credit for finally recognizing Jerusalem is indeed the capital of Israel.”

Shimon Koffler Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said in a statement that his organization has been in touch with senior government officials to underscore the reality of the situation, including the ways in which Hamas encourages civilians to participate in lethal riots, as a sort of violent “PR strategy.”

“Hamas alone is responsible for the current situation,” he said. “We are grateful for the Canadian government’s warm relationship with Israel and Canada’s recognition of Israel’s right and obligation to defend itself against such security threats.”

Israel’s ambassador to Canada, Nimrod Barkan, posted a video to Twitter, wherein he reminded viewers that Canada, like many states around the world, recognizes Hamas as a terrorist organization.

“Hamas has taken the entire Gaza hostage,” he said.