Netanyahu says Israeli forces killed World Central Kitchen workers in Gaza

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirms Israel launched attack that killed seven charity workers in Gaza.

Heavily damaged vehicle of the officials working at the US-based international volunteer aid organization World Central Kitchen (WCK)
Heavily damaged vehicle of the officials working at the US-based international volunteer aid organization World Central Kitchen (WCK), who are killed, is seen after an Israeli attack on a vehicle belonging to WCK in Deir Al-Balah of Gaza [Ashraf Amra/Anadolu Agency]

Israel has confirmed its forces killed seven people from the World Central Kitchen charity in Gaza as they travelled in a convoy emblazoned with the charity’s logo that had coordinated its movements with the Israeli military.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the deadly attack on the aid workers as unintended and “tragic” and pledged an independent inquiry.

“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 on Tuesday.

“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.”

Citizens from Australia, the United Kingdom and Poland, as well as Palestinians and a dual citizen of the United States and Canada were killed.

WCK, which was founded by celebrity chef Jose Andres, said they had been travelling in two armoured cars and another vehicle.

The convoy was hit after leaving a Deir el-Balah warehouse after unloading more than 100 tonnes of humanitarian food aid brought to Gaza by sea.

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

Several humanitarian aid organisations, including WCK, suspended operations in Gaza on Tuesday.

The groups said they need to determine whether their workers can safely provide aid in the territory.

“We are horrified and heartbroken by the tragic killing of seven innocent humanitarians in Gaza,” said Chris Skopec, executive vice president of global health at Project HOPE, which operates health clinics in Rafah and Deir al-Balah and provides medical supplies and other aid to area hospitals.

Erin Gore, chief executive of WCK, said the attack was “unforgivable”.

“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,” Gore. “This is unforgivable.”

Last week, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued new provisional measures as part of the genocide case brought by South Africa ordering Israel to take all necessary and effective action to ensure basic food supplies can reach the civilian population in Gaza to halt spreading famine.

In response, Israeli officials accused the United Nations and other international bodies of “failure” over the problems in getting aid to hungry people, saying they lack the logistical capacity to perform their jobs.

US urges ‘impartial investigation’

The attack on the aid convoy drew widespread outrage and criticism from some of Israel’s main allies.

The UK summoned Israel’s ambassador in London to express its “unequivocal condemnation of the appalling killing” of the WCK workers.

“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 wrote on X.

The US said it was “outraged” by the Israeli airstrike and that President Joe Biden called WCK’s founder to share his condolences.

“We were outraged to learn of an IDF [Israeli army] strike that killed a number of civilian humanitarian workers yesterday from the World Central Kitchen,” White House spokesperson John Kirby told reporters during a briefing in Washington.

Asked whether the US would condemn the Israeli airstrike, Kirby said of his use of the word “outraged”: “I think you can fairly characterise that as condemning the strike itself.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had urged Israel to carry out a swift, thorough and impartial investigation into the attack.

“We’ve spoken directly to the Israeli government about this particular incident. We’ve urged a swift, a thorough and impartial investigation,” he told a news conference in Paris alongside French Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Sejourne.

“These people are heroes, they run into the fire, not away from it. We shouldn’t have a situation where people who are simply trying to help their fellow human beings are themselves at grave risk,” Blinken said.

Sejourn expressed France’s “firm condemnation” of the Israeli air raid and said “nothing can justify such a tragedy.”

Calls for halt to arms shipments

Asked whether incidents like the killing of WCK staff gave the US pause in light of its recent approval of a new weapons package worth $2.5bn, Blinken argued Washington had “a longstanding commitment to Israel’s security and to help it ensure its ability to defend itself”.

Several US politicians condemned Israel’s attack. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders said the killing of the charity workers was “not an accident”. “No more aid for Netanyahu’s war machine,” he wrote on X.

Representative Pramila Jayapal, from the Democratic Party, said it was “the latest horror inflicted by Netanyahu’s air strikes on Gaza” and called for a halt to “US military aid used for indiscriminate killing.”

Representative Jim McGovern said in a post on X that “Netanyahu needs to stop bombing civilians, stop restricting aid, and stop weaponizing food.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies