OTTAWA - The top Palestinian diplomat in Canada urged Hamas on Friday to stop shooting rockets into Israel while calling on Canada to leverage its friendship with the Israelis to persuade them to halt their ground offensive into Gaza.
Said Hamad, the chief representative of the Palestinian delegation to Canada, said that's the only way to end the suffering of innocent Palestinian civilians — children in particular — who are caught in the crossfire of the escalating 11-day-old hostilities.
"Hamas should end its rocket attacks into Israeli areas," Hamad told The Canadian Press in an interview Friday. "But we do appreciate Canada, as a good friend of Israel, and I think that a good friend in this situation would advise restraint."
Hamad spoke as Israel entered the second day of its first major offensive into Gaza in five years following 10 days of airstrikes aimed at stopping the militant group Hamas from firing rockets at Israeli cities.
"This ground offensive represents an irresponsible escalation that will only serve to compound civilians' harm and bring more suffering to the children of Gaza," Hamad said. "What's been developing in Gaza is a terrible humanitarian crisis."
As of Friday afternoon, the violence was estimated to have caused the deaths of more than 270 Palestinians — 20 per cent of them estimated to be children — and two Israelis, including a soldier.
Hamad lamented the deaths of four Palestinian boys killed in an Israeli strike on a Gaza beach on Wednesday and the deaths of three more children a separate rocket attack on Thursday.
"It takes an incredible act of moral contortion to believe that (the) Israeli pilot that fired the missile killed the four children on the beach on Wednesday or the tank that destroyed the room that killed three children, or the government that authorized these actions, did so in self-defence," he said.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird issued a statement supporting Israel's latest military move, and reiterated that Hamas is entirely to blame for any casualties.
"These operations could have been avoided if Hamas had not rejected the government of Egypt's ceasefire proposal — a proposal that was accepted by Israel and welcomed by the Palestinian Authority," Baird said.
"This proves that Hamas has no interest in peace and bears responsibility for the further tragic loss of life."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called out Hamas for using Palestinian civilians as human shields against the current Israeli offensive.
Hamad said it is getting more difficult to hear news of innocent children being killed in recent days.
"I have the same feelings towards the Israeli civilians too. I am totally against firing rockets from inside the Gaza Strip into Israel, and ... I condemn firing these missiles from Israel into Gaza."
Hamad said he is calling on the Canadian government to "work hard and be actively engaged in bringing a ceasefire" to end the current violence and help work towards a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Baird also called on Egypt to resume its unsuccessful efforts to broker a ceasefire.
"Egypt is the best-placed country in the region to help end the current hostilities. It is a historic leader in regional peace efforts," he said.
The Israeli offensive continued Friday as troops moved further into Gaza, targeting tunnels and other infrastructure in an attempt to degrade the ability of Hamas to launch attacks.
"Canada stands by Israel's right to defend itself, by itself. Israel will be forced to continue defending itself as long as Hamas continues its rocket attacks against civilians," Baird said.
Baird and the Liberal foreign affairs critic, Marc Garneau, took part in a rally in Ottawa on Wednesday night at a Jewish community centre in support of Israel. The NDP was also invited to attend but did not send anyone to speak, an organizer of the event told the crowd.
In what was at times an emotional speech, Baird fiercely defended Israel's right to defend itself and live in peace in the region.
Garneau, for this part, largely agreed, and like Baird, he laid the blame for civilian deaths squarely at the feet of Hamas.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday he has spoken to many world leaders and suggested that Israel had more support than it has in the past for its latest Gaza offensive.
"Now I know that in such campaigns, global public opinion always receives a distorted picture of the campaign," he said prior to a cabinet meeting.
"But, unlike in the past, this time there are many in the international community who understand that it is Hamas — and Hamas alone — that is responsible for the victims."
Netanyahu called the Israel Defence Force "a moral military without peer" that does not target civilians and regrets "any inadvertent civilian casualties."
But Hamad said the onus remains squarely in Israeli military forces to avoid civilian casualities.
"When a shooter shoots into a crowd and kills somebody it is not the fault of the crowd, it is the fault of the shooters."
Follow Mike Blanchfield on Twitter at @mblanchfield
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