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Indian mission pays final respects to ex-Army officer killed in Gaza, mortal remains returning home

Colonel Waibhav Anil Kale was killed in Gaza's city of Rafah earlier this week by suspected Israeli tank fire, becoming the first "international casualty" in the war. His mortal remains are on their way to India as the UN and Israel are investigating the events of the incident.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Tel Aviv (Israel) Published on: May 17, 2024 13:10 IST
Former Indian Army officer killed, Gaza, Israel Hamas war
Image Source : INDIA IN ISRAEL (X) Indian mission in Tel Aviv paying last respects to former Indian Army officer and UN staffer Colonel Waibhav Anil Kale

Tel Aviv: Officials from the Indian embassy in Israel and the United Nations paid their final respects to former Indian Army officer and UN official Colonel Waibhav Anil Kale, who was killed in Gaza earlier this week. Colonel Kale, who previously commanded the 11 Jammu and Kashmir Rifles, joined the UN as a Security Coordination Officer in the UN Department of Safety and Security (DSS). 

Kale became the first "international casualty" of the seven-month-long war while travelling to a European hospital in a UN-marked vehicle, which was struck by what the UN said was tank fire in Rafah where only Israeli tanks are present. As preparations for his mortal remains to be returned to India were completed, officials from the Indian embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel's foreign ministry, Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and UN organisations paid their last respects.

"Embassy officials joined by senior officials from @IsraelMFA, @IDF, @UNDSS and other UN organizations paid their last respects to the mortal remains of Col Waibhav Anil Kale (Retd), who lost his life in Gaza. The mortal remains are on their final journey to India," said the embassy on X.

The Permanent Mission of India to the UN had said in a post on Tuesday that it is “deeply saddened” by the loss of Col Waibhav Kale. “Our deepest condolences are with the family during this difficult time,” it said. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he “was deeply saddened" to learn of Colonel Kale's death.

UN apologises to India after Kale's death

Earlier, the Ministry of External Affairs said its diplomatic missions were "in touch with relevant authorities" on the investigation into Kale's death, and helping to bring home his body. "We are deeply saddened by the death of Colonel Waibhav Anil Kale (Retd), Security Coordination Officer in the UN Department of Safety and Security (DSS) in Gaza on 13 May 2024. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his family and dear ones," read an official statement.

The Israeli military on Monday said the incident was "under review" and the IDF had not been made aware of the vehicle's route. However, an initial inquiry indicated that "the vehicle was hit in an area declared an active combat zone." Meanwhile, the UN extended apologies to India over the death of Colonel Kale, saying that a fact-finding panel has been established to look into the deadly attack.

"We also express our apologies and our condolences to the Government and people of India...We appreciate the contribution that India has made," said Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. "We believe it came from a tank in the area" and later added, it was "safe" to assume that only the IDF tanks in that region. 

Some 254 aid workers have been killed in Gaza since the war began, including 191 UN staff. The Hamas-run government's media office accused Israel of "deliberately targeting foreign staff in the Gaza Strip".

Colonel Kale's family distraught

Mugdha Ashok Kale, the aunt of the retired colonel, said she was still struggling to come to terms with the fact that he was no more. "When we heard about Waibhav, it came as a big shock. We still can't believe he is no more. We hadn't even seen much of him in the recent past. However, it feels he is still with us in spirit," she told the news agency ANI.

"He was very active and always up to something since childhood. However, he was also very dedicated to his family and would catch up and spend time with us whenever he could. Patriotism and service to the nation run in the veins of the Kale family. It was his grandfather's wish that he join the forces," said the deceased officer's cousin Chinmay Ashok Kale.

Palestinian health authorities say Israel's ground and air campaign in Gaza since October 7 has killed more than 35,000 people and driven most of the enclave's 2.3 million people from their homes. The main United Nations aid agency in Gaza, UNRWA estimates some 450,000 people have fled the city since May 6. More than a million civilians had sought refuge there.

(with inputs from agencies)

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