UN STAFF members inspect the wreckage of a car, used by US-based aid group World Central Kitchen, that was hit by an Israeli strike the previous day in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, on Tuesday.—AFP
UN STAFF members inspect the wreckage of a car, used by US-based aid group World Central Kitchen, that was hit by an Israeli strike the previous day in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, on Tuesday.—AFP

• Military says conducting thorough review at highest levels
• Tragic incident draws widespread condemnation, demand for investigation from Western capitals

GAZA STRIP: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday an Israeli airstrike that killed seven people working for the aid charity World Central Kitchen (WCK) in Gaza was unintended and “tragic”, and the military pledged an independent inquiry.

The Israeli military expressed “sincere sorrow” over the incident, which drew widespread condemnation and ratcheted up pressure for steps to ease the disastrous humanitarian situation in Gaza after nearly six months of war.

The strike on the WCK convoy killed citizens of Australia, Britain and Poland as well as Palestinians and a dual citizen of the United States and Canada.

WCK, which was founded by celebrity chef Jose Andres, said they had been travelling in two armoured cars emblazoned with the charity’s logo and another vehicle.

“Unfortunately in the past day there was a tragic event in which our forces unintentionally harmed non-combatants in the Gaza Strip,” Netanyahu said in a video statement.

“This happens in war. We are conducting a thorough inquiry and are in contact with the governments. We will do everything to prevent a recurrence.”

Britain summoned Israel’s ambassador in London to express its “unequivocal condemnation of the appalling killing” of the WCK workers, three of whom were British nationals.

“Israel must urgently explain how this happened and make major changes to ensure safety of aid workers on the ground,” British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said in a post on X.

Washington urged Israel to conduct a swift, thorough and impartial investigation into the airstrike, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday.

Blinken arrived in Paris for talks with senior officials including President Emmanuel Macron. “We’ve spoken directly to the Israeli government about this particular incident. We’ve urged a swift, a thorough and impartial investigation,” Blinken told reporters at a press conference in Paris, adding that humanitarian workers have to be protected.

“These people are heroes, they run into the fire, not away from it,” he said of the NGO workers killed in the strike. “We shouldn’t have a situation where people who are simply trying to help their fellow human beings are themselves at grave risk.” But Blinken stopped short of directly condemning the attack, unlike his French counterpart Stephane Sejourne.

Speaking alongside Blinken, Sejourne voiced France’s “firm condemnation” of the Israeli airstrike. “Nothing can justify such a tragedy,” he said.

Canada also condemned the Israeli strike and called for a full investigation.

“I am horrified to hear reports of the IDF strike taking the lives of seven World Central Kitchen employees in Gaza yesterday, including a Canadian citizen,” Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said on Tuesday.

“We condemn these strikes and call for a full investigation. Canada expects full accountability for these killings and we will convey this to the Israeli government directly. Strikes on humanitarian personnel are absolutely unacceptable,” she said on X.

Increasing Israeli isolation

Australia and Poland, countries which have generally been friendly towards Israel, all demanded action to protect aid workers, underlining Netanyahu’s increasing diplomatic isolation over the situation in Gaza.

Israel has long denied accusations that it is hindering the distribution of urgently needed food aid in Gaza, which it has besieged in a war since October, saying the problem is caused by international aid groups’ inability to get it to those in need.

Despite coordinating movements with the Israeli military, the convoy was hit as it was leaving its Deir al-Balah warehouse after unloading more than 100 tonnes of humanitarian food aid brought to Gaza by sea, WCK said.

“This is not only an attack against WCK, this is an attack on humanitarian organisations showing up in the most dire of situations where food is being used as a weapon of war,” said Erin Gore, chief executive of World Central Kitchen. “This is unforgivable.”

The Israeli military (IDF) said it was conducting a thorough review at the highest levels to understand the circumstances of what it called a tragic incident, and pledged an investigation by “an independent, professional and expert body”.

The UN and other international groups have accused Israel of hindering aid distribution with bureaucratic obstacles and failing to ensure the security of food convoys, underlined by a disaster on Feb 29, in which around 100 people were killed as they awaited an aid delivery.

Published in Dawn, April 3rd, 2024

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