People gather around the damaged car used by U.S.-based aid group World Central Kitchen, that was hit by an Israeli strike in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on April 2, 2024. (AFP via Getty Images)

Israel says its strike killed 7 World Central Kitchen humanitarian aid workers in Gaza

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Israel says its strike killed 7 World Central Kitchen humanitarian aid workers in Gaza

People gather around the damaged car used by U.S.-based aid group World Central Kitchen, that was hit by an Israeli strike in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on April 2, 2024. (AFP via Getty Images)

(JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel’s army was responsible for what he called a “tragic” and “unintentional” strike that killed seven workers affiliated with the international aid nonprofit World Central Kitchen who were delivering food in Gaza.

The organization, led by Chef Jose Andres and famous for feeding needy people in crisis situations around the world, said the workers had been killed by an Israeli army strike despite having coordinated their operations with the army.

“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,” World Central Kitchen CEO Erin Gore said in a statement. “This is unforgivable.”

Netanyahu, in a brief video in Hebrew he posted after his release from hospital for a successful hernia operation, acknowledged Israel’s responsibility and pledged a probe into the incident.

“To our sorrow, in the last day, there was a tragic incident of an unintentional strike by our forces on innocents in the Gaza Strip,” he said. “It happens in war, we will investigate this thoroughly, we are in contact with the governments, and we will do everything so that this does not happen again.”

The incident has prompted World Central Kitchen to suspend its operations at a time when food is scarce across Gaza. It appears assured of becoming a new flashpoint in a six-month-old war in which Israel’s conduct in Gaza is facing sharp criticism even from its allies.

The Biden administration has yet to comment on the incident, but other allies of Israel criticized it immediately. “This is beyond any reasonable circumstances that someone going about providing aid and humanitarian assistance should lose their life,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said in a press conference.

One of the aid workers killed was Australian. The others were Polish, British, a dual U.S.-Canadian citizen and Palestinian. Graphic video of their bodies, with their international passports visible, circulated on social media in the hours after the killings, which took place in two separate strikes on a convoy outside a warehouse in Deir al-Balah. Footage from the scene showed that the workers were traveling in white vans with “World Central Kitchen” stenciled on their roofs; one had a gaping hole in its roof after the strike.

Israel has faced steep criticism over its facilitation of relief into Gaza and on military tactics that President Joe Biden, and other close allies of Israel, have said are exacting too high a cost in civilian lives.

The risk to civilians has been at the crux of U.S. opposition to Netanyahu’s plans to invade Rafah, the city on Gaza’s border with Egypt that Israel says is the final major redoubt of Hamas forces. Hundreds of thousands of Gaza Palestinians have retreated to Rafah, often at Israel’s behest, and Biden officials have said they have yet to see a viable plan to protect or evacuate them during an Israeli assault.

In an English-language video statement released Tuesday, Daniel Hagari, an IDF spokesman, said he had spoken to Andres and “expressed the deepest condolences of Israel Defense Forces to the families and the entire World Central Kitchen family.” Hagari also said an investigation would “examine the serious incident further” and “help us reduce the risk of such an event from occurring again.”

Hagari also praised World Central Kitchen, which Andres deployed in Israeli after the Oct. 7 massacres by Hamas terrorists that launched the war.

“They were one of the first NGOs here,” Hagari said. “The work of WCK is critical. They are the frontlines of humanity. We will get to the bottom of this, and we will share our findings transparently.”

Andres, posting on X, was grief-stricken.

“These are people…angels…I served alongside in Ukraine, Gaza, Turkey, Morocco, Bahamas, Indonesia,” he said about the workers who were killed. “They are not faceless…they are not nameless. 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.”

Andres’ direct accusations against Israel stood out. Early in the war, Andres, a citizen of Spain, lambasted his government for its criticism of Israel.

“You as Minister have to first recognize that the Hamas attack against civilians is a terrorist act,” he chided a government minister who accused Israel of war crimes and genocide on Oct. 16, before the Israeli army launched its ground invasion into Gaza. “And that Israel is defending its citizens…then you can ask for restraint and respect for the lives of civilians in Gaza.”

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