update deskIsrael at War

IDF chief apologizes for accidental killing of aid workers

"We will continue taking immediate actions to ensure that more is done to protect humanitarian aid workers."

Palestinians inspect a car of the World Central Kitchen aid organization that was hit by an Israeli airstrike, in Deir al-Balah, the Gaza Strip, April 2, 2024. Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.
Palestinians inspect a car of the World Central Kitchen aid organization that was hit by an Israeli airstrike, in Deir al-Balah, the Gaza Strip, April 2, 2024. Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.

The head of the Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday night issued an official apology for the accidental killing of seven World Central Kitchen (WCK) aid workers in the Gaza Strip on Monday.

“I want to be very clear—the strike was not carried out with the intention of harming WCK aid workers. It was a mistake that followed a misidentification, at night during a war in very complex conditions. It shouldn’t have happened,” said IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi in an English video message posted to social media.

Halevi spoke after OC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman presented him with the findings of a preliminary investigation into the incident.

The initial probe into the incident will be released to the public in the coming days, while a more in-depth investigation is ongoing. The larger investigation is being conducted by the IDF’s Fact Finding and Assessment Mechanism, an independent body of professionals and experts.

According to details from the report published by Channel 12 on Wednesday, at 10:30 p.m. on the night of the incident, armed men were spotted near the WCK vehicles, but no strike was authorized as Israeli forces had identified the convoy.

However, around 30 minutes later, as the three-vehicle convoy began traveling south on the coastal road to Rafah from the warehouse at Deir al-Balah in central Gaza where they had dropped off food, a decision was apparently made to launch the strike. The IDF is investigating why the order was given, and by whom.

In his video statement, IDF chief Halevi also said he had visited a command center established on Tuesday to better coordinate humanitarian aid distribution in the coastal enclave.

“We will continue taking immediate actions to ensure that more is done to protect humanitarian aid workers,” Halevi said, describing the incident as a “grave mistake” and emphasizing that Israel is at war with the Hamas terrorist organization and not with the people of Gaza.

“We are sorry for the unintentional harm to the members of WCK. We share in the grief of their families, as well as the entire World Central Kitchen organization, from the bottom of our hearts.”

Israeli President Isaac Herzog also apologized for the incident in a phone call on Tuesday with World Central Kitchen founder, celebrity chef José Andrés.

“President Herzog expressed his deep sorrow and sincere apologies over the tragic loss of life of WCK staff in the Gaza Strip last night, and sent his condolences to their families and loved ones,” according to a Foreign Ministry readout of the call.

“The president reiterated Israel’s commitment to ensuring a thorough investigation of the tragedy, which occurred amidst the ongoing war against the terrorist organization Hamas,” the statement continued.

“The president affirmed Israel’s commitment to delivering and upgrading humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, and said that efforts must continue to bring about the immediate release of all the hostages held by Hamas.

“President Herzog thanked Chef Andres and the WCK for their commitment to the well-being of Israelis and Palestinians, and to the values of humanity.”

World Central Kitchen announced that it was suspending its aid operations in Gaza following the incident, which involved the delivery of a shipment of hundreds of tons of food and humanitarian aid that began its journey at the port of Larnaca in Cyprus.

The United Arab Emirates, which was providing financial assistance for the maritime aid corridor and coordinating the operation with the Israeli government, also said that it was pausing activities until Israel grants assurances that aid workers will be protected, Axios reported on Tuesday, citing sources close to the UAE government.

“Despite coordinating movements with the IDF, the convoy was hit as it was leaving the Deir al-Balah warehouse, where the team had unloaded more than 100 tons of humanitarian food aid brought to Gaza on the maritime route,” World Central Kitchen CEO Erin Gore said in a statement on Tuesday.

“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,” the statement continued.

The UAE and Cyprus issued a joint statement expressing “profound condemnation” of the Israeli strike.

“The UAE, Cyprus and World Central Kitchen through the Amalthea Initiative aim to provide urgent humanitarian aid and supplies to the Gaza Strip to avert a famine in northern Gaza and prevent further suffering in the Strip, through the delivery and safe distribution of food supplies,” the statement read.

It is “imperative that Israel must exercise its responsibility to protect humanitarian workers who should be able to carry out this vital work safely and without fear of losing their lives,” it continued.

U.S. President Joe Biden stated on Tuesday night that the deaths of the aid workers, including an American, are “not a stand-alone incident.”

“This conflict has been one of the worst in recent memory in terms of how many aid workers have been killed. This is a major reason why distributing humanitarian aid in Gaza has been so difficult—because Israel has not done enough to protect aid workers trying to deliver desperately needed help to civilians,” Biden claimed. 

“Incidents like yesterday’s simply should not happen. Israel has also not done enough to protect civilians,” he said. “The United States has repeatedly urged Israel to deconflict their military operations against Hamas with humanitarian operations, in order to avoid civilian casualties.”

Biden noted that Israel is investigating the airstrike. “That investigation must be swift, it must bring accountability, and its findings must be made public,” the president said.

He added that he will “continue to press Israel to do more to facilitate” humanitarian aid in Gaza.

“We are pushing hard for an immediate ceasefire as part of a hostage deal,” Biden said. “I have a team in Cairo working on this right now.”

Britain summoned Tzipi Hotovely, the Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom, following the incident, which also involved the deaths of three British nationals.

British Foreign Minister David Cameron said he told Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz that the deaths are “completely unacceptable,” adding that “Israel must urgently explain how this happened and make major changes to ensure safety of aid workers on the ground.”

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, saying he is “appalled” by the killings and demanding “a thorough and transparent independent investigation” into the deadly strike, Sunak’s office said.

The three British citizens killed in the strike were James Henderson, 33, John Chapman, 57, and James Kirby, 47. Also killed in the strike were Australian aid worker Lalzawmi Frankcom, 43, and Polish aid worker Damian Soból, 35. The American-Canadian aid worker killed was named as 33-year-old Jacob Flickinger. Also killed was Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, 25, from Gaza.

According to the Aid Worker Security Database, in 2022 a total of 118 aid workers were killed.

Poland is demanding financial compensation from Israel for the killing of its citizen, Kan News reported on Wednesday.

JNS contacted the Prime Minister’s Office to ask whether Jerusalem was considering paying compensation and a spokesperson said that “we have no info as of now.”

JNS also reached out to the Foreign Ministry; a spokesperson said that they would wait for the results of the investigation before commenting.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk had harsh words for Netanyahu and Israel’s Ambassador to Poland Yacov Livne for their public reactions to the tragedy, writing on X that “the vast majority of Poles showed full solidarity with Israel after the [Oct. 7] Hamas attack. Today you are putting this solidarity to a really hard test. The tragic attack on volunteers and your reaction arouse understandable anger.”

Canada’s Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly on Wednesday called for a full investigation into the incident. On the sidelines of a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, she said that Israel must respect international law and that Canada would make sure that it does.

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