Published: 19:38, April 3, 2024 | Updated: 20:38, April 3, 2024
Israel urged to be accountable for aid worker killings
By Jan Yumul in Hong Kong

People inspect the site where World Central Kitchen workers were killed in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip, April 2, 2024. (PHOTO / AP)

Israeli statement of “unintentional” and “misidentified” killings of international aid workers in Gaza on April 1 paled out amid accountability calls from its Western allies and allegations of scaring aid workers in Israel’s Gaza-starving scheme.

Several countries, including staunch ally the United Sates, have demanded accountability and that Israel conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into what went wrong, with some accusing Israel of intentionally targeting or indiscriminately attacking the workers. 

Francesca Albanese, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the West Bank and Gaza, accused Israeli forces on her X account, formerly Twitter, of “intentionally killing” the WCK workers so that donors “would pull out and civilians in Gaza could continue to be starved quietly”, as she accused Western countries of not “moving a finger for the Palestinians”.

Nonprofit organization World Central Kitchen said in a statement on April 2 that seven of its members – from Australia, Poland, United Kingdom, a dual citizen of the US and Canada, and Palestine – “have been killed in a strike by Israeli Defense Forces in Gaza”. 

It said that 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 via the maritime route pre-agreed with Israeli military.  

The WCK convoy, with clear marks on vehicles and following routes in a non-conflict zone, was hit three times in a sequence by drone-piloted missiles, the last vehicle stricken hard while carrying the dead and wounded from first two strikes, Al Jazeera English reported.

World Central Kitchen CEO Erin Gore said she was “heartbroken and appalled” that their group lost beautiful lives “because of a targeted attack by the Israeli Defense Forces” and that the attack was not only against WCK but “on humanitarian organizations showing up in the most dire of situations where food is being used as “a weapon of war”, adding it “is unforgivable”.

The latest tragedy has prompted WCK and some humanitarian organizations to rethink their work in Gaza – a blow to conflict-stricken, deprived civilians and aid workers already working with depleted sources and racing against time to curb the threat of famine.

UN Secretary General Guterres said the Israeli attack on aid workers is “unconscionable.”  Dennis Francis, president of the UN General Assembly said he is “outraged by the tragic killings.”  At least 196 humanitarian workers have now been killed in Gaza since October, according to the UN.

US President Joe Biden, in a statement, said he was “outraged and heartbroken” by the deaths of seven humanitarian workers from WCK. He demanded Israel’s investigations to be swift, bring accountability and the findings “must be made public”. 

Biden also noted that it was “not a stand-alone incident” and that the ongoing conflict “has been one of the worst in recent memory” in terms of how many aid workers have been killed.

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said on his X account that he was appalled by the killings. In a joint statement with EU Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic, Borrell demanded an assurance of accountability for those responsible and reminded the Israeli obligation under International Humanitarian Law to “protect humanitarian workers at all times”. 

They also demanded the implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolution on adopting an immediate and sustainable cease-fire.

In a telephone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on April 3, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese expressed outrage over the attack on innocent aid workers. 

The Australian government had summoned the Israeli ambassador to Australia, Amir Maimon, to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to give an explanation but was told “he is sick”.

DFAT said in a statement on April 2 that Australia has been “very clear that we expect humanitarian workers in Gaza to have safe and unimpeded access to do their lifesaving work”.

United Kingdom Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called the strike “shocking” on his X account and demanded Israel to explain how “this tragic incident happened” and to take immediate steps to protect workers and facilitate vital humanitarian operations in Gaza. 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, in a statement, affirmed “complete rejection of weaponizing food against civilians in the war on Gaza” and demanded ensuring accountability and non-impunity “for all crimes committed as a result of the horrific war”.

The United Arab Emirates, which normalized ties with Israel through the Washington-brokered Abraham Accords in 2020, also made its indignation felt.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in a statement, sent cables of condolences to Australia, Poland, UK, US, Canada, and the Embassy of the State of Palestine in Abu Dhabi, as well as WCK Founder Jose Andres.

He stressed the UAE's call on Israeli authorities to “conduct an urgent, independent and transparent investigation, and accept full responsibility”, and to strengthen the humanitarian response and intensify efforts aimed at “halting escalation in the occupied Palestinian territory and in the region”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had admitted on his website that there had been “a tragic event in which our forces unintentionally harmed non-combatants in the Gaza Strip”. 

“This happens in war. We are conducting a thorough inquiry and are in contact with the governments. We will do everything to prevent a recurrence,” said Netanyahu.

Muslim Imran, director at the Malaysia-based Asia Middle East Center for Research and Dialogue, or AMEC, a think tank, thinks Israel “has made it very clear in the beginning of the ongoing onslaught” that they did not want anybody to stay in the northern regions of Gaza. 

It “put a policy of ethnic cleansing in place” and it has been targeting “almost everyone or anything moving” in the northern parts of the Gaza Strip. He said aid workers – whether local or international aid workers – are seen as “the problem” by Israel for “obstructing Israel’s police of ethnic cleansing”.

Imran said Israel has “not encouraged international aid workers to come in” and when they “found a chance”, they “targeted them and killed them”, thinking that this will scare off international efforts from coming to Gaza.

“I don't buy Israel’s propaganda and claims that it was an unintentional targeting because they targeted three different cars (and the IDF) have been coordinating with this particular international NGO and the Israel army knows exactly where the coordinate of these aid workers are,” Imran told China Daily.  

“By claiming that (the strikes are) unintentional and claiming that they will conduct an investigation, it's very funny when the criminal perpetrator conducts investigations on themselves,” he added.

Karl Wilson in Sydney contributed to this report.

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