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As famine looms, aid groups halt work in Gaza after Israeli attack

The deaths of seven World Central Kitchen workers threatened to set back efforts by the U.S. and other countries working to funnel aid into Gaza.
As famine looms, aid groups halt work in Gaza after Israeli attack
Posted at 7:29 AM, Apr 04, 2024

Some of Israel's closest allies, including the United States, on Tuesday condemned the deaths of seven aid workers who were killed by airstrikes in Gaza — a loss that prompted multiple charities to suspend food deliveries to Palestinians on the brink of starvation.

The deaths of the World Central Kitchen workers threatened to set back efforts by the U.S. and other countries to open a maritime corridor for aid from Cyprus to help ease the desperate conditions in northern Gaza.

President Joe Biden issued an unusually blunt criticism of Israel by its closest ally, suggesting that the incident demonstrated that Israel was not doing enough to protect civilians.

“Israel has not done enough to protect aid workers trying to deliver desperately needed help to civilians,” he said, adding he was “outraged and heartbroken" by their killings.

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

SEE MORE: World Central Kitchen demands independent investigation after strike

Ships still laden with some 240 tons of aid from the charitable group turned back from Gaza just a day after arriving, according to Cyprus. Other humanitarian aid organizations also suspended operations in Gaza, saying it was too dangerous to offer help. Israel has allowed only a trickle of food and supplies into Gaza's devastated north, where experts say famine is imminent.

The dead from Monday night's strikes included three British citizens, Polish and Australia nationals, a Canadian-American dual national and a Palestinian. Those countries have been key backers of Israel's nearly six-month-old offensive in Gaza, and several of them denounced the killings.

Israel already faces growing isolation as international criticism of the Gaza assault has mounted. On the same day as the deadly airstrikes, Israel stirred more fears by apparently striking Iran’s consulate in Damascus and killing two Iranian generals. The government also moved to shut down a foreign media outlet — Qatari-owned Al Jazeera television.

The hit on the charity’s convoy also highlighted what critics have called Israel’s indiscriminate bombing and lack of regard for civilian casualties in Gaza.

Israel's military chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, announced the results of a preliminary investigation early Wednesday.

“It was a mistake that followed a misidentification — at night during a war in very complex conditions. It shouldn’t have happened,” he said. He gave no further details. He said an independent body would conduct a “thorough investigation” that would be completed in the coming days.

SEE MORE: Israel opts out of cease-fire talks with Hamas as US pushes for a deal

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had earlier acknowledged the “unintended strike ... on innocent people” and said officials would work to ensure it does not happen again.

World Central Kitchen said it had coordinated with the Israeli military over the movement of its cars. Three vehicles moving at large distances apart were hit in succession. They were left incinerated and mangled, indicating multiple targeted strikes.

At least one of the vehicles had the charity’s logo printed across its roof to make it identifiable from the air, and the ordnance punched a large hole through the roof. Footage showed the bodies at a hospital in the central Gaza town of Deir al-Balah, several of them wearing protective gear with the charity’s logo.

Israeli TV said the initial military investigation found that the army identified the cars carrying World Central Kitchen’s workers arriving at its warehouse in Deir al-Balah and observed suspected militants nearby. Half an hour later, the vehicles were struck by the air force as they headed south. The reports said it was not clear who ordered the strikes or why.

Throughout the war, Israel has said it seeks to avoid civilian casualties and uses sophisticated intelligence to target Hamas and other militants. Israeli authorities blame them for civilian deaths because they operate in populated areas.

SEE MORE: Desperate need for food aid growing in Gaza

At the same time, Israel has also insisted that no target is off-limits. Israeli forces have repeatedly struck ambulances and vehicles carrying aid, as well as relief organization offices and U.N. shelters, claiming that armed fighters were in them.

Israeli forces have also shown a readiness to inflict widespread destruction on suspicion of a militant presence or out of tactical need. Homes with Palestinian families sheltering inside are leveled by strikes almost daily with no explanation of the intended target. Videos of strikes released by the military often show them hitting individuals without visible weapons, while identifying them as militants.

More than 32,900 Palestinians have been killed in the war, around two-thirds of them women and children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in its count.

Celebrity chef José Andrés, who founded the World Central Kitchen charity, said he was “heartbroken” by the deaths of the staffers.

“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,” he wrote on X.

The U.S., Britain, Poland, Australia and Canada all called on Israel to give answers on the deaths. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant launched an investigation and ordered the opening of a joint situation room enabling coordination between the military and aid groups.

But anger among its allies could put new pressure on Israel.


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