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'All I want is my family to live': Canadian man desperate to help family flee Gaza

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Nael Alhalis has been crying every day in recent weeks, worried his wife and two children might die in Gaza at any moment.

The Ontario man said his 13-year-old daughter and his nine-year-old son -- who are Canadian citizens -- were placed on a list of foreigners allowed to leave the territory through a border crossing with Egypt more than two weeks ago but his Palestinian wife was not.

That has meant the trio have remained stuck in Gaza and now, as Israel intensifies its offensive into southern parts of the enclave, Alhalis said he is desperate to get his family out.

"My stomach is aching and I feel very much sick," Alhalis said in an interview from Burlington, Ont., on Tuesday.

"We're mentally stalled, we're psychologically devastated, and we're emotionally exhausted. I hope people understand my situation. All I want is my family to live."

Alhalis, who was born in Gaza and immigrated to Canada with his parents in 1994, had been largely living in the Palestinian enclave for the last six years with his wife and kids and travelled frequently for work.

He said he was in Canada when Hamas launched its attack on Israel on Oct. 7, marking the start of the war.

On Tuesday, Israel's military continued pushing deeper into the southern area of Khan Yunis, the second largest city in Gaza, in its pursuit to wipe out the territory's Hamas rulers.

Alhalis said his two children can't cross into Egypt by themselves and now even his family's journey to the border from central Gaza -- where they are sheltering -- seems impossible.

The 46-year-old said he's been in contact with Global Affairs Canada, which has said it is "truly sorry" for the circumstances he is facing.

He said Canadian government officials have said they are advocating for his wife to get on the list of individuals allowed to leave Gaza but ultimately the matter is out of their hands.

"Unfortunately, despite continued advocacy, Canada does not make the final determination of who gets approved by local authorities to cross the Rafah border," Global Affairs wrote to him in an email, a copy of which was shared with The Canadian Press.

"However, we assure you that we continue to advocate with these authorities for your family members to be allowed to leave Gaza."

Alhalis said his family has been sheltering at the home of a local doctor and his wife has told him on their phone calls that they are all hungry and thirsty.

The sounds of bombs are clear in the background, he said, as his wife also tells him about how sick his son has become over the past five days.

"Every time I speak to my wife, I cry," Alhalis said.

"I don't sleep. My life is not the same anymore. I'm staying home all day. I'm not even following my work. I'm behind big time."

Alhalis said he wants Ottawa to push further for its citizens and their family members to be allowed out of Gaza.

"I don't believe Canada, with all with its immense influence abroad, cannot take action to get its citizens safe," he said. "It's a shame. It's hurtful. It breaks my heart."

On Tuesday, Immigration Minister Marc Miller said he is considering options to get the extended family members of Canadians out of Gaza.

Miller said the government has tried to be flexible in cases where family configurations don't match the strict definition laid out in the Immigration Act. That definition only includes spouses, children and common-law partners of Canadian citizens and permanent residents.

The surprise Oct. 7 attack on Israel saw Hamas and other Palestinian militants kill about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and take captive some 240 men, women and children.

Israel's assault since Oct. 7 has killed more than 15,890 people in Gaza, with more than 42,000 wounded, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths.

The United States, Qatar and Egypt, which mediated an earlier ceasefire, say they are working on a longer truce.

-- With files from the Associated Press and Laura Osman in Ottawa

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2023.

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