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Baird 'appalled' by rockets report

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OTTAWA -- Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says he's "appalled" by a report a United Nations agency turned over a stockpile of rockets found in a school building in Gaza to Hamas.

The UN Relief and Works Agency said Tuesday it had found rockets in a vacant school it runs in the Gaza Strip, and it was pursuing measures to remove the weapons while starting an investigation.

Last week, the agency found another stockpile of rockets in a Gaza school it operates -- and a report from Israel indicated it had turned over the weapons to "local authorities," suggesting they had been returned to Hamas.

Baird demanded the UN launch an "immediate independent investigation" to determine the facts in the two incidents. He also called on the UN not to return the rockets in the second case to Hamas.

A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed near Israel's main airport Tuesday, wounding one Israeli and prompting airlines to suspend flights to Tel Aviv.

It was the latest blow to Israel on a day when it announced an Israeli soldier went missing following a deadly battle in the Palestinian territory, where the Israelis are fighting Hamas militants in the third conflict in just over five years.

In Ottawa, tempers flared briefly as protesters marched through the city's downtown Tuesday, calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to denounce Israel's military actions in Gaza. Hundreds of Palestinian-Canadians and their supporters demonstrated in front of Harper's Langevin Block office building before heading to the Israeli Embassy a few blocks away.

As they marched past Parliament Hill, there were screams of "Shame, shame" when a handful of pro-Israel demonstrators draped in an Israeli flag shouted "No more terror" from a nearby sidewalk.

Meanwhile, Air Canada cancelled a scheduled flight from Toronto to Tel Aviv on Tuesday, joining many U.S. and European airlines that were prohibited from flying to Israel's main airport following a rocket explosion.

"We will continue to evaluate the situation going forward and provide updates as needed," an Air Canada spokeswoman said in an email.

The announcement came shortly after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration prohibited U.S. airlines from flying to Tel Aviv for 24 hours "due to the potentially hazardous situation created by the armed conflict in Israel and Gaza."

Later, the European Aviation Safety Agency issued an advisory to airlines saying it "strongly recommends" airlines avoid the airport. Several European airlines cancelled their flights, some of them for the next 36 hours.

Israeli police confirmed a rocket from Gaza landed in an area near Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday. Police said the rocket landing was the closest to the airport since fighting began July 8, when Israel launched a massive air campaign to stop relentless Hamas rocket fire into its territory.

Israel's Transportation Ministry called on the airlines to reverse their decision, insisting the Tel Aviv airport is safe and completely guarded and saying there is no reason to "hand terror a prize" by halting the flights.

-- The Canadian Press, with files from The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 23, 2014 A10

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