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12th Apr 2024

EU awaits Israeli 'clarification' on killing of seven aid workers in Gaza

  • So far, at least 32,845 Palestinians have been killed in the war — 13,750 of them children (Photo: UNRWA/Mohammed Hinnawi)
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On Monday (1 April), an Israeli air strike killed seven aid workers from the US-based charity World Central Kitchen (WCK), the organisation said after immediately pausing its operations in the Gaza Strip — the seven killed were from Australia, Poland, the UK, a dual US-Canadian citizen and Palestine.

"This is not only an attack against WCK, this is an attack on humanitarian organisations showing up in the most dire of situations where food is being used as a weapon of war," said World Central Kitchen CEO Erin Gore, as WCK is one of the most prominent humanitarian organisations providing much-needed aid in the strip.

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However, the European Commission is still awaiting clarification from the Israeli authorities, which it has urged to carry out a thorough investigation, stressing that humanitarian workers must always be protected in accordance with international humanitarian law.

"We are not on the ground, so we don't know exactly how this happened," a senior EU official told reporters on Tuesday. "We are aware of the reports coming from the region, but that's why we are asking for clarification through a thorough investigation so that we know how it happened."

In a video statement published later on Tuesday, Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said "this happens in war", and described the incident as "a tragic event in which our forces unintentionally harmed non-combatants in the Gaza Strip," adding that his government is looking into it and will do everything possible to ensure it does not happen again.

The charity organisation noted that its team was coordinating its movements with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and that it was travelling in two armoured vehicles with the WCK logo in a deconflicted zone in central Gaza, where it unloaded over 100 tonnes of food brought in by sea.

In response to the attack, the IDF announced an independent probe into the killing of seven aid workers in Gaza who were delivering desperately needed food through the recently established maritime corridor.

"We have been reviewing the incident at the highest levels to understand the circumstances of what happened and how it happened," admiral and IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari said in a recorded statement.

Former Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy took a different tone, referring to the attack as a "friendly-fire tragedy" on his X account (formerly Twitter).

Meanwhile, EU's foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell has condemned the attack and called for an investigation, saying "this shows that the UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire, full humanitarian access and increased protection of civilians must be implemented immediately" — but the commission president's response was more cautious.

"I pay homage to the World Central Kitchen aid workers who lost their lives in Gaza," Ursula von der Leyen posted on her X account, with no reference to the cause of the aid workers' deaths as the EU executive expects further clarification from Israel.

Some 196 aid workers have been killed in Gaza since the war began on 7 October, according to the US-funded Aid Worker's Security Database.

"For them to be able to do their job properly, their free movement within Gaza must be ensured, and obviously what we have seen in the last 24 hours is not helpful at all," a senior EU official told a press conference.

Back in mid-March, an Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis warned of the dire situation in Gaza, with northern Gaza facing imminent famine and the rest of the Strip at risk.

Yet access to aid in Gaza is very limited, especially by land, which prompted the international community to deliver humanitarian aid by alternative sea and air routes.

Under international humanitarian law, there should be no restrictions on the amount of aid that can enter the Strip or on who can receive it.

"More needs to be done," said a commission official. "In the past few weeks, we've had on average about 100 lorries going in, which is far less than before the 7th of October, when we had around 500 a day, and that's what it would need".

So far, authorities in Gaza say at least 32,845 Palestinians have been killed in the war — 13,750 of them children.

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