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Gaza aid convoy attack: How has Israel, US and UK responded?

World leaders have expressed outrage following the deaths of seven aid workers in Israel in an IDF air strike, prompting calls for an immediate investigation.

US-based World Central Kitchen (WCK) said on Tuesday that their staff members had been killed in a “targeted attack”, despite previous liaison with the IDF.

The aid workers were from Palestine, Australia, Poland, the UK, and US-Canada.

Their deaths have brought Israel’s record on humanitarian workers fatalities under intense scrutiny. United Nations spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said the situation was “the inevitable result of the way this war is being conducted.”

Palestinians inspect a vehicle with the logo of the World Central Kitchen wrecked by an Israeli airstrike in Deir al Balah, Gaza (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Palestinians inspect a vehicle with the logo of the World Central Kitchen wrecked by an Israeli airstrike in Deir al Balah, Gaza (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

“At least 196 humanitarians have been killed since October in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which is one of the world’s most dangerous and difficult places to work,” he said. “Let humanitarian workers do their job”.

Responses have come from leaders across the world, with Israel taking responsibility for the deaths, which it said was unintentional, and promising to conduct an independent investigation. Here’s what’s been said so far:

World Kitchen Organisation: ‘This is unforgivable’

The WCK initially acknowledged the attack in a X/Twitter post shortly after 12am UK time, writing: “This is a tragedy. Humanitarian aid workers and civilians should NEVER be a target. EVER.”

The humanitarian aid charity later issued a fuller statement, confirming the deaths of seven team members, and outlining the circumstances around the attack.

“The WCK team was traveling in a deconflicted zone in two armored cars branded with the WCK logo and a soft skin vehicle,” the report said.

“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 brought to Gaza on the maritime route.”

The World Central Kitchen members killed in the attack (World Central Kitchen/PA)
The World Central Kitchen members killed in the attack (World Central Kitchen/PA)

WCK CEO Erin Gore said: “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. This is unforgivable.”

The organisation has paused its operations in Gaza with immediate effect, saying it will make a decision in the near future about the future of its work in the region.

On 4 April, WCK released another statement, writing: “We have asked the governments of Australia, Canada, the United States of America, Poland, and the United Kingdom to join us in demanding an independent, third-party investigation into these attacks.

“Including whether they were carried out intentionally or otherwise violated international law.”

Israel: ‘It shouldn’t have happened’

Following reports of the attack, the IDF accepted responsibility, calling it an unintentional “mistake”.

“The strike was not carried out with the intention of harming WCK aid workers,” said IDF chief of the general staff LTG Herzi Halevi.

“It was a mistake that followed a misidentification, at night, during a war, in very complex conditions. It shouldn’t have happened”.

Herzi Halevi, Israel’s highest-ranking officer, claims strike that killed three Brits was ‘grave mistake’ (Israel Defense Forces)
Herzi Halevi, Israel’s highest-ranking officer, claims strike that killed three Brits was ‘grave mistake’ (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF says it is conducting an independent investigation into the attack, and has promised to learn from its findings. The military force also claims to have established a “humanitarian command center” to improve the coordination of aid distribution in Gaza.

“Israel is at war with Hamas, not with the people of Gaza,” said Mr Halevi. “We are sorry for the unintentional harm to the members of WCK. We share in the grief of their families”.

Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu also responded to the attack, saying: “Unfortunately in the past day, there was 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”.

United States: ‘This is not a stand-alone incident’

In a statement released on 3 April, US president Joe Biden condemned the convoy attack, saying he is “outraged and heartbroken.”

“Even more tragically, this is not a stand-alone incident,” president Biden said. “This conflict has been one of the worst in recent memory in terms of how many aid workers have been killed”.

The US president adds that Israel “has not done enough” to protect aid workers or civilians.

“The United States will continue to do all we can to deliver humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians in Gaza, through all available means. I will continue to press Israel to do more to facilitate that aid.”

People inspect the site where World Central Kitchen workers were killed in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip (AP)
People inspect the site where World Central Kitchen workers were killed in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip (AP)

President Biden’s statement marks the latest shift in US support for Israel. Last week (25 March), the UN Security Council voted for the first time to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza after the US abstained on the vote. This brought a deadlock of over five months to an end.

Mr Netanyahu subsequently cancelled a visit to the White House by two of his ministers, arguing the US’s actions “harms both the war effort and the effort to release the hostages.”

The White House has said that president Biden is due to speak to Mr Netanyahu over the phone on 4 April.

Questioned by The Independent whether he believed the IDF convoy strike was intentional, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said: “They’re [the IDF] investigating it. Let them do that work, and let them see what they come up with. And then we’ll go from there.”

Asked whether the US would support criminal penalties if the attack was found to be deliberate, Mr Kirby said: “Should there be need for accountability, that accountability [should] be properly put in place for whoever may be responsible for this.”

United Kingdom: PM says he is ‘appalled’

A spokesperson for Rishi Sunak says the PM is “appalled” by the deaths and believes “too many aid workers and ordinary civilians have lost their lives in Gaza and the situation is increasingly intolerable”.

The spokesperson said the PM “expects to see immediate action by Israel to end restrictions on humanitarian aid, deconflict with the UN and aid agencies, protect civilians and repair vital infrastructure like hospitals and water networks”.

“The prime minister reiterated that Israel’s rightful aim of defeating Hamas would not be achieved by allowing a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza,” they added.

Pro-Palestine protest, London, December 2023 (Getty Images)
Pro-Palestine protest, London, December 2023 (Getty Images)

The UK currently provides humanitarian aid to the Palestinians who are impacted by the Israel-Hamas conflict, trebling their commitment in the 2023/24 financial year to provide an additional £70m.

However, the government also has not answered calls to suspend arms sales to Israel, which amounted to £42 million in 2022. Over 600 lawyers, including former Supreme Court president Brenda Hale, signed a joint letter on 4 April calling for the UK to stop arms sales to Israel as the government risks breaching international law.

The intervention came a day after Lord Peter Ricketts, the UK’s first national security advisor during the premiership of Lord David Cameron, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think there’s abundant evidence now that Israel hasn’t been taking enough care to fulfil its obligations on the safety of civilians.”

“And a country that gets arms from the UK has to comply with international humanitarian law”.

Several MPs from all parties have backed this position, as Monday’s convoy attack brings Israel’s record on international law under increased scrutiny.

Both the Lib Dems and SNP call for arms exports to be suspended, while Labour’s position is to demand suspension if legal advice suggest Israel has broken international law. The government has not yet answered calls to publish legal advice it has reportedly received on the matter.