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Baird to press Egypt for help in cooling Mideast crisis

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says he is reaching out to Egypt to persuade its government to get involved in resolving an escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas.

BLAIR GABLE/REUTERS

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says he is reaching out to Egypt to persuade its government to get involved in resolving an escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Mr. Baird told reporters on Friday that he plans to phone his counterpart in Egypt with the goal of persuading Hamas to halt its rocket attacks against Israel. "I'm putting in a call to my Egyptian counterpart to ask them to look at whatever they could do to play a constructive role in tackling this crisis," he said.

Egypt helped negotiate a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in 2012, but its new government has taken a harder stand against Hamas that would make talks with the militant organization more difficult. Mr. Baird acknowledged that the situation has changed in Egypt since the Muslim Brotherhood party was ousted in a military coup.

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"They were uniquely qualified in the past to do that. Those qualifications of course are very different today, but we would certainly welcome any constructive role they could play to talk Hamas off this course of action."

Canada's relationship with Egypt is also complicated by the fact that a Canadian journalist working for Al Jazeera was recently handed a seven-year sentence in Egypt after a trial that was widely decried as a sham.

The conflict between Israel and Hamas entered its fourth day on Friday as air strikes from both sides intensified, and the estimated Palestinian death toll surpassed 100, including dozens of civilians. No deaths from rockets have been reported on the Israeli side.

The federal government issued a call on Friday for Canadians in the Gaza Strip to leave immediately, saying the conflict is making it increasingly difficult for consular officials to provide them with any help.

The Conservative government has said repeatedly during the conflict that it backs Israel's right to defend itself against Hamas, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper conveyed that message in a phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this week.

Speaking to reporters late Friday, Mr. Baird said that it was up to Hamas to de-escalate the conflict. Other countries, including the United States, have said they support Israel's right to self-defence but also called for restraint as the civilian toll in the Gaza Strip grows.

Asked whether Mr. Netanyahu should ignore international pressure to de-escalate the violence, Mr. Baird said the Israeli Prime Minister has "an obligation and a duty" to defend Israeli civilians from being targeted by Hamas.

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Mr. Baird made the comments as he announced 14 additional sanctions and travel bans against individuals accused of playing a role in Russian interference in Ukraine. The new sanctions came after the federal government said it would send six fighter jets on a NATO mission over the Baltic states this fall in response to Russian interventions in Ukraine.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Kim Mackrael has been a reporter for The Globe and Mail since 2011. She joined the Ottawa bureau Sept. 2012. More

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