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Netanyahu laments Israel’s ‘unintended’ killing of aid workers in Gaza

site of a strike on wck vehicle in central gaza strip
A Palestinian inspects near a vehicle where employees from the World Central Kitchen were killed in an Israeli airstrike, in Deir Al-Balah, in the central Gaza, Strip

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday an Israeli airstrike that killed seven people working for celebrity chef Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen charity in Gaza was unintended and “tragic”, and the military pledged an independent inquiry.

The Israeli military confirmed the deadly strike on a WCK convoy that killed citizens from Australia, Britain and Poland as well as Palestinians and a dual citizen of the United States and Canada. WCK said they were travelling in two armoured cars emblazoned with the charity’s logo and another vehicle.

The military expressed “sincere sorrow” and promised an independent investigation into the incident, which drew widespread condemnation and ratcheted up pressure for steps to ease the disastrous humanitarian situation in Gaza.

“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.”

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 tons 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”.

Israel has been under rising international pressure to alleviate the severe hunger in Gaza, which has been devastated by months of fighting the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. Much of the densely populated territoryhas been laid waste and most of its2.3 million population displaced.

The United Nations 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.

Hamas, Gaza’s dominant group, has said the main problem with aid distribution was Israeli targeting of aid workers. After the latest incident, it issued a statement saying the attack aimed to terrorise workers of international humanitarian agencies, deterring them from their missions.

Last week, the World Court ordered Israel to take all necessary and effective action to ensure basic food supplies to the enclave’s Palestinian population and 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 in Gaza, saying they lack the logistical capacity to perform their jobs.

Andres, who started WCK in 2010 by sending cooks and food to Haiti after an earthquake, said he was heartbroken and grieving for the families and friends of those who died in the airstrike.

“The Israeli government needs to stop this indiscriminate killing. It needs to stop restricting humanitarian aid, stop killing civilians and aid workers, and stop using food as a weapon.”

WCK, which said last month it had served more than 42 million meals in Gaza over 175 days, announced it was pausing its operations in the region immediately and would make decisions soon about the future of its work.

BRITAIN, AUSTRALIA, POLAND CALL FOR INVESTIGATION

Britain, 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.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed the death of 44-year-old aid worker Lalzawmi “Zomi” Frankcom and said his government had contacted Israel to demand those responsible be held accountable.

Poland, which also lost a citizen, objected to the “disregard for international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians, including humanitarian workers.”

Video obtained by Reuters showed a large hole in the roof of a four-wheel-drive WCK vehicle and its burned and torn interior, as well as paramedics moving bodies into a hospital and displaying the passports of three of those killed.

“We are heartbroken and deeply troubled by the strike that killed @WCKitchen aid workers in Gaza,” U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said on social media.

Conditions in Gaza remain extremely precarious with fighting going on in several areas on Tuesday and 71 people killed in Israeli strikes over the past 24 hours, according to Gaza health authorities.

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