During the brief moments Nael Halees gets to speak to his wife and children in Gaza, the Palestinian-Canadian says it leaves him with a broken heart.
“Every call that takes me hours and hours to get through, before my wife ends the call, she said, ‘Maybe this is the last time you will hear our voice,'” Halees told CTV National News.
Along with his wife and two children, the resident of Burlington, Ont., says he has 18 other family members trapped in Gaza, where Israeli forces are carrying out an offensive to root out Hamas.
He says an Israeli airstrike hit his brother’s apartment building in Gaza, killing his niece and nephew.
Since the start of the war, Halees says he has lost 15 family members.
“We can’t focus. I don’t know who is going to remain alive,” he said. “Like, I’m crossing my finger that my family, my daughter, my son, will make it. My brother’s family, hoping they will make it.”
Israeli forces have launched repeated airstrikes, laid siege to Gaza and restricted food, water and other supplies into the territory following Hamas’ deadly attack on Oct. 7.
More than 1,400 people in Israel have been killed, most on Oct. 7, and 242 hostages have been taken into Gaza, The Associated Press reports.
The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza has reported the Palestinian death toll to be 9,227. In the occupied West Bank, more than 140 Palestinians have been killed in violence and Israeli raids.
Six Canadians, as well as one with deep ties to Canada, died following Hamas’ attack and two others are missing.
Some foreign nationals and their families have since made the journey out of Gaza through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.
On Wednesday evening, Global Affairs Canada said it was aware of reports that one Canadian was able to leave with the help of a third party.
But about 450 Canadians, permanent residents and their families are in Gaza and want to leave.
Global Affairs on Friday sent an email to Canadians in the region saying “more than 400 Canadian citizens, permanent residents and eligible family members will be able to leave Gaza through the Rafah border crossing in the coming days, and possibly as early as Sunday.”
Following a summit in Washington, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “We need to see a humanitarian pause to get aid in, to get Canadians out, to get vulnerable people out, to get hostages released. These are the things that the people around the world are looking for.”
Halees says his family has moved multiple times amid the bombardments and is currently staying in central Gaza.
He is urging Canada to support a ceasefire and safe passage for people to leave, with the help of international aid organizations such as the Red Cross.
While Halees hopes diplomacy will take place, he also remains critical of what he says is the Canadian government’s “second-class” treatment of Palestinian-Canadians.
Even if his family is able to leave through the Rafah crossing, he is worried about the risks that such a journey could bring, adding, “Any minute I can lose my family.”
“Like, even me here, as a Canadian, I wish I’d been there with them,” he said. “I’d rather die with them, rather than be in a life with no family.”