Israeli military sacks two officers over strikes on WCK aid convoy

Israeli military says its officers believed they were targeting Hamas fighters when they killed charity workers.

The Israeli military says it has dismissed two officers and reprimanded three others for their roles in an attack in central Gaza that killed seven aid workers, saying they had mishandled critical information and violated the army’s rules of engagement.

The military said on Friday that an internal investigation found its forces had mistakenly believed they were “targeting armed Hamas operatives”.

The victims – an Australian, three Britons, a North American, a Palestinian and a Pole – were killed on Monday night in three air strikes over four minutes by an Israeli drone as they ran for their lives between their three vehicles, the military said.

“It’s a serious event that we are responsible for, and it shouldn’t have happened, and we will make sure that it won’t happen again,” military spokesman Daniel Hagari told reporters.

The United States-based charity World Central Kitchen (WCK), whose convoy was hit, said Israel’s “apologies for the outrageous killing of our colleagues represent cold comfort”, and it called for an independent investigation into the attack.

WCK CEO Erin Gore also said: “Israel needs to take concrete steps to assure the safety of humanitarian aid workers. Our operations remain suspended.”

‘Not necessarily justice’

The Israeli military said that after the vehicles left a warehouse where WCK aid had been unloaded, “one of the commanders mistakenly assumed that the gunmen were located inside the accompanying vehicles and that these were Hamas terrorists.”

Its report called the strike on the aid vehicles “a grave mistake stemming from a serious failure due to a mistaken identification, errors in decision-making, and an attack contrary to the Standard Operating Procedures”.

Those dismissed were a fire support commander holding the rank of major and a brigade chief of staff holding the rank of colonel in reserve, the military said.

It also formally reprimanded the commander of the brigade involved and the division commander. Chief of the General Staff Herzi Halevi reprimanded the commander of the Southern Command “for his overall responsibility for the incident”.

Reporting from occupied East Jerusalem, Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands pointed out that Israel’s report makes no mention of any potential prosecutions against the dismissed officers.

“That might come in the future, but it’s certainly not contained in the report,” he said. “What we’re getting is dismissals and military reprimands. But that’s not necessarily justice for the family and friends of the people who died.”

‘Abandoning fighters’ in middle of war

Israel’s national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, accused the military leadership of “abandoning” its soldiers.

“The chief of staff’s decision to dismiss senior officers is an abandonment of the fighters in the middle of a war and a serious mistake that conveys weakness,” the far-right minister wrote on X. “Even if there are mistakes in identification, soldiers are backed up in war.”

United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said on Friday that “it’s very important that Israel is taking full responsibility for this incident … [and] taking steps to hold those responsible accountable.”

However, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said there were no plans by the US to conduct an independent investigation into the killings.

David Cameron, the UK’s foreign minister, welcomed the suspension of the two officers and said his country was “carefully reviewing” the findings of Israel’s investigation.

“These findings must be published in full and followed up with a wholly independent review to ensure the utmost transparency and accountability,” he added.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also urged an independent investigation, not just for the WCK aid workers killed but for all “196 humanitarian workers” killed since the Gaza war began.

“The Israeli government has acknowledged mistakes. But the essential problem is not who made the mistakes, it is the military strategy and procedures in place that allow for those mistakes to multiply time and time again,” he said.

Poland, which is in a diplomatic dispute with Israel after losing one of its nationals in the strikes, demanded criminal action be brought against Israel for the “murder” of the aid workers.

“We want [Polish] prosecutors to be added and implicated in the explanations and in the entire criminal and disciplinary procedure for the soldiers responsible for this … murder,” Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Szejna said.

Israel ‘cannot investigate its own failure’

The WCK called for the creation of an independent commission to investigate the killing of its colleagues, saying the Israeli military “cannot credibly investigate its own failure in Gaza”.

“It is also clear from their preliminary investigation that the IDF has deployed deadly force without regard to its own protocols, chain of command and rules of engagement. Without systemic change, there will be more military failures, more apologies and more grieving families,” WCK said.

“It’s not enough to simply try to avoid further humanitarian deaths, which have now approached close to 200,” WCK founder Jose Andres said. “All civilians need to be protected, and all innocent people in Gaza need to be fed and safe, and all hostages must be released.”

The group said that “the root cause of the unjustified rocket fire on our convoy is the severe lack of food in Gaza”, and urged Israel to dramatically increase the volume of food and medicine traveling into the enclave through land crossings.

The United Nations, international agencies and Israel’s allies have also said Israel must allow in more humanitarian aid because famine is imminent across the Gaza Strip, especially in the north, which was invaded by Israeli ground forces first.

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after he had a tense phone call on Thursday with US President Joe Biden that the Israeli military will reopen the Beit Hanoon (Erez) land crossing “temporarily” and activate the port in Ashdod to get more aid to Gaza.

It framed this as “necessary to ensure the continuation of the fighting and to achieve the goals of the war”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies