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Last Updated: Monday, 17 July 2006, 20:48 GMT 21:48 UK
Canada's shock at Lebanon deaths
By Lee Carter
BBC News, Toronto

The death of eight members of a Canadian-Lebanese family in an Israeli air strike has sent shockwaves through Canada's large Lebanese community.

Ali el-Akhras, a pharmacist from Montreal, was on holiday with his wife Amira and their four children in the Lebanese village of Aitaroun, about 50 kilometres south of Beirut.

Meyssoun Akhras with photos of her relatives killed in Lebanon
Three generations of the Akhras family were killed in Lebanon
Amira and the children - aged one to eight - were all killed when an Israeli missile struck the house in which they were sheltering.

Ali's mother Hania and his uncle were also killed, while Ali later died of his injuries in hospital. Three other Lebanese relatives were also injured, family members in Montreal said.

An estimated 40,000 Canadians remain in Lebanon.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered his condolences to the families of the victims but he refused to criticise Israel or question its use of force.

He said it was the kidnappings of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah guerrillas that started the conflict and said an escalation was "inevitable".

But friends and relatives of the Canadians killed in the Israeli air strike have accused the Conservative prime minister of not doing enough to protect Canadians in Lebanon.

They also accused Mr Harper of not caring about civilian lives.

Mr Akhras's cousin, Hussein el-Akhras said that although he was devastated by what happened to his relatives, he also felt sad for all the Lebanese civilians affected by the strikes.

Map of Lebanon

"The Lebanese are bombed and they can do nothing." he said. "It's not just our family. There are a lot of civilians killed. There are hundreds dead and injured.

" I'm asking the international community to help and put pressure on Israel to stop the bombings."

The Akhras family were among many Canadians stranded in Lebanon as the crisis worsened. It is a popular time of year for Canada's Lebanese community to visit relatives back home.

The Canadian Foreign Affairs department said it was sending commercial ships to pick up Canadians scrambling to leave the country.

"We expect to be able to evacuate people by mid-week," Mr Harper said. He said Canada was working closely with British and American officials on evacuation plans.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Canadian PM Stephen Harper has faced criticism at home
Critics of the government response said it was almost impossible to get through to the Canadian embassy and complained about a lack of information on the government website.

Joseph Nader in Toronto is among those anxiously awaiting word on relatives stranded in Lebanon. His brother-in-law's wife and two young daughters are close to where shelling has been taking place.

He says the response from Canadian foreign ministry officials is getting better but still wonders why it has come so late.

"It's barely a year since the big tsunami and now the same sort of thing is happening with Lebanon," he said. "Once again the government is reacting long after something has happened.

" I noticed the US had a toll-free number to call two days after it started happening while the Canadians didn't have the same sort of thing set up until three or four days later."

Mr Nader says that his relatives are going to stay where they are while they await instructions from Canadian consular officials.

He says that although communication between Canada and Lebanon is difficult, he is still managing to talk to his relatives by cell phone. Originally he was scheduled to join them on holiday. Now he cannot wait for them to leave.

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