Spanish PM says Israeli response to killing World Central Kitchen aid workers 'unacceptable' - as it happened

Ahram Online , Wednesday 3 Apr 2024

Ahram Online provided coverage of the Israeli war on Gaza on its 180th day.

United Nations staff members inspect the carcass of a car used by US-based aid group World Central Kitchen, that was hit by an Israeli strike the previous day in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip. Photo: AFP


22:30 Israeli minister Benny Gantz, a member of the war cabinet and a main rival of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called Wednesday for snap parliamentary elections in September.

Netanyahu faces pressure from several sides, including protests demanding boosted efforts to secure the release of captives taken in Hamas' 7 October operation.

"We must set a consensual date for September, or if you prefer for the first anniversary of the war," said Gantz, who is also a lawmaker, in a speech from his office in Israel's parliament, the Knesset.

Netanyahu's Likud party rejected the call, but it was welcomed by the leader of the US Senate who last month urged new elections in a strident criticism of Netanyahu's handling of the war.

"When a leading member of Israel's war cabinet calls for early elections and over 70 percent of the Israeli population agrees according to a major poll, you know it's the right thing to do," Senator Chuck Schumer wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Early elections require the agreement of 61 elected officials, or the majority of deputies in the Knesset, where the Likud has the most seats without having a majority.

Netanyahu's Likud said elections while Israel is at war "would inevitably lead to paralysis" and harm the military's fight in Gaza.

Demonstrations by opponents of Netanyahu have brought together thousands of people in recent weeks, particularly since Saturday, notably in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Protesters and the relatives of captives taken on 7 October called for the resignation of the premier.

According to the latest polls, in the event of early elections, Gantz would be well ahead of Netanyahu, whose popularity has been declining since 7 October.

21:30 A Palestinian-American doctor said he walked out of a Ramadan event with President Joe Biden at the White House to show solidarity with the people of Gaza against Israel's offensive.

Thaer Ahmad, who traveled to Gaza earlier this year, told CNN he left the meeting between Biden and members of the Muslim community on Tuesday in protest at US "rhetoric" supporting Israel.

"I let him know that I am from a community that's reeling. We are grieving. Our heart is broken for what's been taking place over the last six months," Ahmad, an emergency doctor from Chicago, told the president.

He said he then "let him know that out of respect for my community, out of respect for all of the people who have suffered, who have been killed in the process, I need to walk out of the meeting."

Biden "actually said that he understood," he added.

The White House said on Wednesday that Biden respected the doctor's stance.

"The president respects any American's right to peacefully protest," Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told a briefing.

"He understands that this is a painful moment for many Americans."

Biden had downsized the traditional event to mark the Muslim holy month of Ramadan amid growing domestic anger over his support for Israel's war on Gaza since 7 October.

Muslim leaders met the president but asked for there to be no fast-breaking dinner, with Biden holding only a small meal separately with Muslim White House staff.

Tensions over Gaza soared further this week after an Israeli airstrike killed seven employees of a US-based charity, World Central Kitchen, on Monday.

Biden said on Tuesday he was "outraged" and accused Israel of not doing enough to protect aid workers or civilians, in one of his strongest statements since the war started.

"I think you can sense the frustration in that statement yesterday," US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

But the White House said that Biden continued to support Israel's "right to defend itself" and there were no plans to curb arms deliveries to the key US ally.

20:30 Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Wednesday the response of his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu to an Israeli airstrike that killed seven aid workers was "insufficient" and "unacceptable."

"We are waiting for a much more detailed clarification of what the causes have been, bearing in mind that the Israeli government knew about the actions and the itinerary of this NGO on the ground in Gaza," Sanchez told a Doha news conference at the end of a three-nation tour of the Middle East.

"It seems to me unacceptable, insufficient," he added when asked about Netanyahu's statements about the Israeli attack on aid workers.

US-based food aid organization World Central Kitchen founded by Spanish-American celebrity chef José Andrés said it was pausing its operations in Gaza after the "targeted Israeli strike" on Monday killed Australian, British, Palestinian, Polish, and US-Canadian staff.

Netanyahu later admitted Israel's military had "unintentionally" killed them in an airstrike.

He said it was a "tragic case" that would be investigated "right to the end" but stopped short of apologizing for the deaths.

Sanchez has been one of the most critical voices in Europe over Israel's war crimes and atrocities in the war on Gaza.

He has repeatedly said the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the recognition of two states, Israel and Palestine.

Sanchez said Wednesday that Spain would recognize Palestinian statehood "as soon as possible when the conditions are right and in such a way that this decision will have the most positive impact possible."

While he did not give a timeline, Spanish media reported Tuesday that he told journalists accompanying him on his Middle East trip that he wants to take this step during the first half of this year.

At the same time, Sanchez called for "the recognition of Israel by its Arab neighbours," saying "Mutual recognition is the key to achieving a lasting solution to this conflict."

Sanchez began his Middle East tour in Jordan on Monday, before traveling to Saudi Arabia and then Qatar.

Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar do not have official ties with Israel.

19:30 Israeli objections to the return of displaced Palestinians to their homes is the key issue holding up negotiations for a ceasefire in Israel's Gaza war, mediator Qatar said on Wednesday.

"The return of the IDPs (internally displaced people) to their homes, which the Israelis didn't agree to yet ... is the main point we are stuck in," Qatar's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told a press conference.

Another outstanding issue pertains to the number of Palestinian prisoners to be released by Israel in exchange for each captive freed by Hamas, Sheikh Mohammed said, noting however that he believed this "can be bridged."

Qatar, alongside the United States and Egypt, has been engaged in weeks of behind-the-scenes talks in a bid to secure a truce in Israel's Gaza war and the release of Israeli captives in exchange for Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails.

The mediators had hoped to secure a ceasefire before the start of Ramadan, but progress stalled and the Muslim holy month is nearly over.

The major sticking points remain the same as those that stymied a deal during negotiations in Paris in February, Sheikh Mohammed said.

"Unfortunately, the points that we were stuck in when in February we were negotiating in Paris are the same points we are (still) stuck in," he told reporters.

15:46 Israeli troops dug up roads and destroyed water networks in a Nablus village overnight, cutting off water supplies to residents as raids continued in the occupied West Bank.

The army used bulldozers to destroy side roads in Deir Al-Sharaf, village council member Omar Nofal told the Palestinian WAFA news agency.

Residents use the roads to bypass Israeli checkpoints.

Hundreds of families have also been left with no water after the occupation army dismantled the village's water systems, he added.

Raids were also reported in Qaliqilya, Hizma, Azzun, and Al-Fara'a camps near Tubas, where Israeli soldiers also destroyed local infrastructure.

14:50 The bodies of six foreign aid workers killed in a series of Israeli strikes were transported out of the Gaza Strip and into Egypt ahead of their repatriation, Al-Qahera News TV reported.

The bodies of three British citizens, a Polish citizen, an Australian, and a Canadian American dual citizen were driven into Egypt through the Rafah crossing.

Their Palestinian driver, Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, was also killed, and his remains were handed over to his family for burial in Gaza.

The 25-year-old Palestinian was buried in a ceremony attended by hundreds in his hometown of Rafah on Tuesday, according to BBC News.

14:43 Founder of World Central Kitchen, chef José Andrés, called on Israel to open land crossings for aid and stop killing civilians in Gaza.

In an op-ed published by Israel’s Yediot Ahronot on Wednesday, Andrés wrote: "The Israeli government needs to open land routes to food and medicine today. It needs to stop killing civilians and aid workers today.”

“You cannot save the hostages by bombing every building in Gaza. You cannot win this war by starving an entire population," he said.

Andrés said the Israeli strikes that killed seven workers late Monday “were not just some unfortunate mistake in the fog of war.”

“It was a direct attack on clearly marked vehicles whose movements were known by the (Israeli military). It was also the direct result of his government’s policy to squeeze humanitarian aid to desperate levels,” Andrés wrote.



14:00 Iran’s Revolutionary Guard warned Israel over an airstrike that destroyed Iran’s consulate in Damascus and killed 12 people, including two Iranian generals.

Gen. Ramazan Sharif, a spokesman for the guard, said: “Soon we will see deadlier blows to the Zionist regime and the Resistance Front will carry out its duties in this regard.”

Sharif accused Israel of trying to avenge the 7 October operation, saying it “will get nowhere, and the motivation of our soldiers will be multiplied.”

He also accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of using such strikes to divert public attention from “the racist nature of this regime."

13:43 The UK government is under pressure to stop arming Israel after seven humanitarian aid workers were killed by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza, the Guardian reported.

Three Conservative MPs told the Guardian that the UK should stop exporting arms to Israel following the strikes, which killed aid workers.

David Jones, the Conservative MP for Clwyd West, said: “The government should urgently reassess its supply of arms and deliver a stern warning to Israel about its conduct." 

Flick Drummond, the Conservative MP for Meon Valley, said UK arms sales to Israel should be stopped “for the foreseeable future.”

Alan Duncan, a former Foreign Office minister, said: “The government’s stance on arms exports to Israel is a matter of grave concern, particularly given Israel’s blatant disregard for international humanitarian law.”

The Liberal Democrats also called for UK arms exports to Israel to be suspended on Wednesday morning. The SNP said parliament should be recalled from its Easter recess to discuss the crisis.

Rishi Sunak has said that arms exports to Israel are kept under “careful” review, but he has resisted calls for them to be halted.

13:20 President Joe Biden said a US team is currently in Cairo pushing hard for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza as part of a deal to release the Israelis held in Gaza.

His remarks came after Israel stated on Tuesday that mediators under “useful” Egyptian mediation formulated an updated proposal to be presented to Hamas.

The Israeli government said negotiators from the intelligence agencies Mossad and Shin Bet as well as the Israeli army have returned to Israel following the conclusion of an intensive round of talks in Cairo.

Israel said it expects the mediators to push Hamas more forcefully toward a deal.

Indirect talks to reach a truce between Israel and Hamas restarted in Cairo on Sunday, a few days after the UN Security Council adopted a resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza during Ramadan.

However, Israel has continued its war in Gaza, defying global pressures, while Eid Al-Fitr, the Muslim feast marking the end of Ramadan, is only a week away.

12:43 The UN Human Rights Council will consider a draft resolution on Friday calling for an arms embargo on Israel, citing the "plausible risk of genocide in Gaza."

If the draft resolution is adopted, it would mark the first time that the United Nations' top rights body has taken a position on the war raging in Gaza.

The text condemns "the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects by Israel" in populated areas of the Gaza Strip and demands that Israel "uphold its legal responsibility to prevent genocide."

The text was brought forward by Pakistan on behalf of 55 of the 56 UN member states in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) the exception being Albania.

The draft resolution is also co-sponsored by Bolivia, Cuba, and the Palestinian mission in Geneva.

The eight-page draft demands that Israel end its occupation of Palestinian territory and immediately lift its "illegal blockade" on the Gaza Strip and all other forms of "collective punishment."

It calls upon countries to stop the sale or transfer of arms, munitions, and other military equipment to Israel, citing "a plausible risk of genocide in Gaza."

The draft "condemns the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects by Israel in populated areas in Gaza" and voices grave concern at the effects of explosive weapons on hospitals, schools, water, electricity, and shelter in Gaza.

It also "condemns the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare."

The draft resolution also calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and "condemns Israeli actions that may amount to ethnic cleansing," urging all states to prevent the forcible transfer of Palestinians within the Gaza Strip.

12:29 The United States military believes Israel carried out the recent airstrike on Iran’s consulate in Syria and that several senior leaders of the Revolutionary Guard were present, AP said.

Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said late Tuesday that it is the US assessment that Israel conducted the strike on the Iranian Consulate in Damascus and that “there were a handful of IRGC top leaders there.”

Israel, which has repeatedly targeted Iranian officers in Syria and Lebanon, did not comment on Monday’s attack.

Iran has vowed to respond to the attack that killed 12 people including two Iranian generals and a member of the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group, which Iran backs.

Israel, increasingly impatient with months of cross-border fighting with Hezbollah, has warned of the possibility of a full-fledged war.

The US National Security Council said the United States played no role in the strike in Damascus and did not know of it beforehand.

12:15 Video and images of the deadly Israeli airstrike in Gaza that killed seven aid workers from World Central Kitchen appear to show that the strike was carried out by targeted drone missiles, an explosive weapons expert told CNN.

Chris Cobb-Smith, a former British Army artillery officer and munitions expert, said the heavy damage to three vehicles seen in video and images from the scene was consistent with the use of “highly accurate drone-fired missiles,” adding it was “hard to believe” the incident was accidental.  

The drone that fired the missiles would have been operated in conjunction with a surveillance drone, Cobb-Smith said, meaning the Israeli military would have had total visibility of the cars. At least two of the vehicles were branded with the WCK logo on their roofs, the group has said.

Patrick Senft, a research coordinator at Armament Research Services (ARES), echoed the opinion of Cobb-Smith, saying that the aftermath of the strike “seems consistent with munitions deployed by UAVs.”  

"The damage to the vehicles appears consistent with precision-guided munitions with a small explosive payload," Senft said.

These comments refute Israel's claim that the strike was a "grave mistake," blaming the strike on a nighttime "identification."

CNN geolocated video and imagery of all three destroyed vehicles, at least one of which was marked with a WCK logo on its roof, to two positions on the strip’s Al Rashid coastal road, and a third location on an off-road area of open ground nearby. The first location is around 2.4 kilometres from the third, indicating that the three vehicles were hit by separate strikes.

The first vehicle, which appeared to have suffered the least damage, was located on Al Rashid Street just outside Deir al Balah.

The second car, which was fire-damaged with a hole through its WCK-marked roof, was located around 800 meters down the same road. Al Rashid Street is “designated for the passage of humanitarian aid” by Israeli authorities, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

CNN geolocated the third car, which seems to be the “soft skin” or unarmored vehicle referenced in WCK’s statement and appeared to be the most heavily damaged, to an open field 1.6 km from the second car.

11:52 Israel killed at least 59 Palestinians and injured 83 in Israeli strikes in the past 24 hours, according to the latest figures from the Palestinian health ministry.

According to a statement, at least 32,975 Palestinians have been killed and 75,577 have been injured in Israeli strikes on Gaza since 7 October.

11:30 The bodies of six foreign aid workers killed in Israeli strikes in Gaza were expected to be transported out of Palestinian territory via Egypt on Wednesday, according to AFP.

The remains of the six international staff, who were killed alongside one Palestinian colleague, were set to be taken out of Gaza through the Rafah crossing with Egypt, said Marwan Al-Hams, director of the city's Abu Youssef Al-Najjar Hospital.

11:28 US senator and former presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders said: "The US shouldn't be giving another nickel to Israel to continue its terrible war against the Palestinian people." 

And to Benjamin Netanyahu he said: “Stop murdering innocent people,” Sanders said in an interview with MSNBC on Tuesday.

"It is not a defense."

“What’s going on in Gaza now is one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the modern history of the world,” he added. 

“I mean, we’re talking about the possibility of hundreds of thousands of children and others starving to death."

“It is horrible. It is inexcusable. And it’s got to end right now. The United States cannot continue to be complicit in the horror that is taking place now.”



11:00 Pope Francis expressed his "deep sorrow" Wednesday for the deaths of seven charity workers killed by an Israeli strike while they were delivering aid in Gaza, according to AFP.

"I express my deep sorrow for the volunteers killed while they were distributing humanitarian aid in Gaza," the 87-year-old pontiff said during his weekly audience at the Vatican.

"I pray for them and their families."

He renewed his appeal for access to humanitarian aid for the "exhausted and suffering civilian population" of Gaza and the Israelis held in the strip to be released.

10:43 Malnutrition among children in Gaza is spreading at a record pace, and one in three children below the age of two are now acutely malnourished, the World Food Programme (WFP) said.

“WFP is providing desperately needed food to 1.45 million people in #Gaza each month, but as #famine closes in, we need more access. We need a ceasefire,” the organization said on X.



10:12 The Palestinian Authority sent the UN secretary-general a letter renewing its request for UN membership.

"Today, the State of Palestine, and upon instructions of the Palestinian leadership, sent a letter to the secretary-general requesting renewed consideration to the membership application," the Palestinian permanent observer mission to the UN Riyad Mansour wrote in a post on X.

The post included a letter, signed by UN Ambassador of the Palestinian Territories Riyad Mansour, which referenced the initial September 2011 application for membership status and requested renewed consideration this month.

In 2011, the Palestinian Authority failed to win UN recognition as an independent member state. A year later, the UN decided that the Palestinian Authority's "non-member observer entity" status would be changed to "non-member observer state," similar to the Vatican.



10:02 US President Joe Biden said he is “outraged and heartbroken” after an Israeli airstrike in Gaza killed seven aid workers.

He admitted the strike was “not a stand-alone incident” and that Israel has “not done enough to protect civilians.”

“They were providing food to hungry civilians in the middle of a war,” Biden wrote in a statement Tuesday. 

“They were brave and selfless. Their deaths are a tragedy.”

“Even more tragically, this is not a stand-alone incident,” Biden wrote.

“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.”

He said that incidents like this “simply should not happen,” and that “Israel has also not done enough to protect civilians.”



Earlier, US State Department spokesperson John Kirby defended Israel once again, stating that "there’s no evidence" to suggest that the Israeli army's killing of WCK staff was deliberate. 

He claimed that the US State Department has "not found any incidents where the Israelis have violated international humanitarian law," despite the mass killing of nearly 33,000 Palestinians, the majority of whom were women and children.



“An Israeli drone fired three missiles one after the other,” unnamed “defense sources” privy to the details of the attack told the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz.

Hamas condemned the killings and accused Israel of targeting aid distribution sites to “terrorize” humanitarian organizations and stop them from helping the starving Palestinians of Gaza.

“We call on the international community and UN Security Council to denounce this heinous act, and to move towards putting an end to the occupation’s crimes and aggression against our people in the Gaza Strip,” Hamas said in a statement.

10:00 The World Central Kitchen (WCK) shared the identities of the seven aid workers who were killed by an Israeli strike in central Gaza on Monday.

“These are the heroes of WCK. These 7 beautiful souls were killed by the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) in a strike as they were returning from a full day's mission. Their smiles, laughter, and voices are forever embedded in our memories,” WCK quoted CEO Erin Gore, in a post on X. The victims are three British, a US-Canadian, a Polish, an Australian, and a Palestinian.

US-based WCK has been working to unload food brought to Gaza by sea from Cyprus.

The Israeli occupation army said the incident is being investigated and that the strike was a "grave mistake.”

“This happens in wartime,” Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of the killings.

Graphic images depicting the corpses of aid workers, clad in bulletproof vests bearing the logo of World Central Kitchen, circulated on social media.

“Some of them were [just] body parts, another had their face amputated, some lost upper or lower body parts – deformations that show they were targeted by a rocket that hit their cars,” Marwan Al-Hams, director of Al-Najjar Hospital, said.



WCK announced the immediate suspension of all its operations in the region. Ships that had already set sail from Cyprus as part of WCK’s operations were reportedly turning back.

Anera, a US charity providing humanitarian aid to Palestinians, also announced a pause in its operations in Gaza. It was the second-largest humanitarian aid group in the Gaza Strip after the UN Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

Since the war on Gaza began, Israel killed at least 196 humanitarian workers, according to the United Nations, with 176 being workers for UNRWA alone, including in the line of duty. 

Several other aid groups say their staff members have been killed by Israeli airstrikes.

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