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Israeli airstrike kills seven workers of international aid group in Gaza, military expresses sorrow

The Israeli military has expressed "sincere sorrow" and pledged an independent probe into the matter. Israel has been accused of hindering humanitarian assistance towards a starving Gaza, particularly after Israeli forces allegedly opened fire on a crowd waiting for deliveries, killing 100.

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Gaza Published on: April 02, 2024 16:05 IST
Israeli airstrike, World Central kitchen, aid workers killed, gaza strip
Image Source : REUTERS The damaged vehicle carrying workers from World Central Kitchen (WCK) after an Israeli airstrike.

Gaza: An apparent Israeli airstrike killed six international aid workers with the World Central Kitchen (WCK) along with their Palestinian driver, said the charity organisation involved in the distribution of humanitarian aid in the beleaguered coastal enclave where Israel's onslaught has pushed hundreds of thousands of people on the brink of starvation and famine. The food charity, founded by celebrity chef Jose Andres, said it was immediately suspending operations in the region.

The deceased included citizens from Australia, Britain, Poland, a dual citizen of the US and Canada and some Palestinians. They were travelling in two armoured cars emblazoned with the WCK logo and another vehicle, according to the charity. Despite coordinating movements with the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), 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 organizations showing up in the most dire of situations where food is being used as a weapon of war. This is unforgivable," said Erin Gore, chief executive of World Central Kitchen. The attack comes as Israel has been under mounting international pressure to alleviate the severe hunger in Gaza, which remains devastated by months of fighting.

Reactions of countries

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. "This is a human tragedy that should never have occurred, that is completely unacceptable and Australia will seek full and proper accountability," he told a press conference on Tuesday.

Poland's foreign ministry issued a statement objecting to the "disregard for international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians, including humanitarian workers". Britain’s Foreign Office said it was aware of reports of the death of a British national in Gaza and was “urgently seeking further information.”

Israeli military expresses 'sincere sorrow'

The Israeli military said it was conducting a thorough review at the highest levels to understand the circumstances of the "tragic incident". The IDF expressed "sincere sorrow" over the death of the WCK workers while stopping short of accepting responsibility.

Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, the top military spokesperson, pledged an investigation by "an independent, professional and expert body" which will "help us reduce the risk of such an event from occurring again". "The IDF makes extensive efforts to enable the safe delivery of humanitarian aid, and has been working closely with WCK in their vital efforts to provide food and humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza," the military said.

Footage showed the bodies, several wearing protective gear with the charity’s logo, at a hospital in the central Gaza town of Deir al-Balah. Three aid ships from the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus arrived earlier Monday carrying some 400 tons of food and supplies organized by the charity and the United Arab Emirates, the group’s second shipment after a pilot run last month.

WCK delivers food relief and prepares meals for people in need. It said last month it had served more than 42 million meals in Gaza over 175 days. It was involved in the first shipment of aid to Gaza via a sea corridor from Cyprus in March. A second WCK maritime aid shipment of 332 tons arrived in Gaza early this week.

Pressure on Israel to provide aid

As the war nears six months, 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 February 29, in which around 100 people were killed as they waited for aid delivery.

Hamas, the Islamist group that controlled Gaza, has said the main problem with aid distribution was the Israeli targeting of aid workers. Following 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 the spreading of famine. However, Israeli officials instead accused the UN 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.

At least 32,845 Palestinians have been killed, around two-thirds of them women and children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. Israel blames the civilian toll on Palestinian militants because they fight in dense residential areas. Aid groups have repeatedly called for a humanitarian cease-fire, saying it’s the only way to reach people in need.

(with inputs from agencies)

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