MCK says apologies insufficient after Israel admits errors in Gaza aid workers killing

AFP , AP , Friday 5 Apr 2024

The Israeli army on Friday admitted a series of errors and violations of its rules in the killing of seven aid workers in Gaza, claiming it had mistakenly believed it was targeting Hamas.

This combination of undated pictures received from World Central Kitchen (WCK) shows undated portraits of relief and security team members of the US-based aid group (Top L To R) Australian Lalzawmi (Zomi) Frankcom, Polish Damian Sobol, British James Kirby, Palestinian Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, (bottom L to R) British James (Jim) Henderson, British John Chapman, and US-Canadian Jacob Flickinger, at undisclosed locations. AFP


It was a rare confession of wrongdoing by Israel in its nearly six-month war on Gaza, where it killed more than 33,000 people, two-thirds of whom are women and children.

The Israeli army said that it dismissed two officers and reprimanded three others for their roles in drone strikes in Gaza that killed seven aid workers on a food-delivery mission, saying they had mishandled critical information and violated the army’s rules of engagement.

Erin Gore, CEO of World Central Kitchen (WCK), was enraged with Israel's apologies following the killing of seven aid workers for WCK in Gaza.

Gore stated, "Israel's apologies for the outrageous killing of our colleagues represent cold comfort for the victims' families and WCK's global family."

The findings of a retired general's investigation into the Monday killings marked an embarrassing admission by Israel, which faces growing accusations from key allies, including the US, of not doing enough to protect Gaza's civilians from its war.

The findings are likely to bolster widespread scepticism over the Israeli military's decision-making. Palestinians, aid groups and human rights organizations have repeatedly accused Israeli forces of firing recklessly at civilians throughout the conflict.

The victims -- an Australian, three Britons, a North American, a Palestinian and a Pole -- were killed Monday night in three air strikes over four minutes by an Israeli drone as they ran for their lives between their three vehicles, the military said.

The US-based charity for which they worked, World Central Kitchen, demanded an independent inquiry, and Poland called for a "criminal" probe after the military's announcement.

Although the roofs of the three aid workers' vehicles were emblazoned with large WCK logos, retired Israeli general Yoav Har-Even, who is leading the investigation, said the drone's camera could not see them in the dark.

"This was a key factor in the chain of events," he said.

The aid group has said its team was travelling in a "de-conflicted" area in a convoy of "two armoured cars branded with the WCK logo and a soft skin vehicle" at the time of the strike.

"Despite coordinating movements with the (Israeli army), the convoy was hit as it was leaving the Deir al-Balah warehouse," WCK said.

The occupation army said aid was moved at night to avoid deadly stampedes by hungry Gazans.

The aid workers' deaths "outraged" US President Joe Biden who demanded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu order steps toward an "immediate ceasefire" in a telephone call Thursday.

Israel later said it would allow "temporary" aid deliveries into northern Gaza, where the United Nations has warned of imminent famine.

Har-Even admitted that "the three air strikes were in violation of standard operating procedures".

'State of mind'

But he argued that "the state of mind" of the Israeli drone commanders "was that they were striking cars that had been seized by Hamas" after they thought one passenger was carrying a gun rather than a bag.

The aid workers were killed after they had overseen the unloading of a ship carrying 300 tonnes of food aid from Cyprus to a warehouse inland.

But as they drove south at 11:09 pm on April 1 the drone "struck one car, and identified people running out of the car and entering the second car," said Har-Even.

"They decided to hit it, which was against standard operating procedures. Then they struck the third car."

Asked by AFP, the general was not able to explain what happened to the "Hamas gunman" on the truck but he conceded that they had been mistaken to think armed Hamas suspects had joined the WCK aid workers in the three pickups.

Har-Even said it was a breakdown in communication and coordination about the convoy in the chain of military command which may have led to the strikes.

Christopher Lockyear, secretary general of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), said on Thursday that a total of nearly 200 humanitarians have been killed during the Gaza war.

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