From the Canadian Press:
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (CP) - Thousands of stranded Canadians should be able to start getting out of war-torn Lebanon by mid-week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Monday.
Speaking as the Group of Eight summit wound up, Harper also offered his condolences to the families of seven Canadians killed in an Israeli bombing raid in Lebanon, but said he was not going to be critical of Israel for defending itself.
Harper began his closing news conference with a reference to Sunday's "tragic deaths of Canadians in Lebanon."
"I want to offer my condolences to their families," the prime minister said.
The seven, from Montreal, had been visiting their families for the summer and were among dozens of civilians killed in Israeli air strikes over the last week.
Israel began bombarding Lebanon after Hezbollah guerrillas crossed into Lebanon and captured two Israeli soldiers. It wants to swap the soldiers for Hezbollah members held by Israel.
Harper said it was those kidnappings that started the conflict and that once a war starts escalation is "inevitable."
The Foreign Affairs Department in Ottawa announced Sunday that it was sending commercial ships to the region to pick up any Canadians who want to get out of the escalating violence between Israel and Lebanon.
Some 40,000 Canadians are believed trapped in Lebanon and Ottawa has been sharply criticized by relatives of the dead who complain Canadian officials had not done enough in the crisis.
"We expect to be able to evacuate people by mid-week," Harper said Monday. "We're in line with the Americans and British on that and we are working very closely with them on evacuation."
Meanwhile, Harper again refused to criticize Israel or question its use of force.
Last week, en route to Europe for his first major international conference, the prime minister called Israel's military reaction to the kidnapping of three soldiers "measured."
"I think our evaluation of the situation has been accurate," Harper insisted again Monday. "Obviously there's been an ongoing escalation and, frankly, ongoing escalation is inevitable once conflict begins."
Neither Harper nor his officials have contacted Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
"We are not going to give in to the temptation of some to single out Israel, which was the victim of the initial attack," said Harper.
The Canadians who voted this man into office should be ashamed. Harper has no mind of his own, and clearly no guts to defend Canadians. He's an embarrassment of a prime minister.