UK: Investigate now; Australia: Completely unacceptable attack

Biden: Convoy hit isn’t isolated incident, IDF endangering aid workers, civilians

US president calls head of agency that lost 7 staffers to express condolences; UK, Australia, Poland, Canada, who had citizens killed, demand investigation; Gallant vows scrutiny

This combination of pictures created on April 2, 2024 shows US President Joe Biden speaking at the annual Friends of Ireland luncheon at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on March 15, 2024 and Spanish chef and founder of the World Central Kitchen charity Jose Andres speaking after receiving an award at the Reconquista Hotel in Oviedo, Spain, on October 22, 2021. (Jim WATSON and ANDER GILLENEA / AFP)
This combination of pictures created on April 2, 2024 shows US President Joe Biden speaking at the annual Friends of Ireland luncheon at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on March 15, 2024 and Spanish chef and founder of the World Central Kitchen charity Jose Andres speaking after receiving an award at the Reconquista Hotel in Oviedo, Spain, on October 22, 2021. (Jim WATSON and ANDER GILLENEA / AFP)

The United States, France and Britain led international criticism Tuesday of a deadly Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip that killed seven aid workers as they unloaded desperately needed food brought by sea to the war-torn territory.

In a statement issued Tuesday evening, Biden said he was “outraged and heartbroken” by the killings of seven humanitarian workers from World Central Kitchen, one of whom was a dual American national.

He noted Israel’s pledge to conduct a thorough investigation and warned that it “must be swift, it must bring accountability, and its findings must be made public.”

“Even more tragically, this is not a standalone incident,” the US president added, adding that the war in Gaza “has been one of the worst in recent memory in terms of how many aid workers have been killed.” White House National Security Council spokesperson said earlier Tuesday that more than 200 aid workers have been killed by Israel, apparently relying on figures from the UN.

“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,” Biden said, excoriating Jerusalem’s prosecution of the war.

“Incidents like yesterday’s simply should not happen. Israel has also not done enough to protect civilians. The United States has repeatedly urged Israel to deconflict their military operations against Hamas with humanitarian operations, in order to avoid civilian casualties,” the president said.

He stressed that the US will continue “to do all we can to deliver humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians in Gaza, through all available means,” while also continuing to press Israel to better facilitate the delivery of aid.

Spanish-American chef Jose Andres, founder of World Central Kitchen, gives food to residents in Kherson, in southern Ukraine, on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

“We are pushing hard for an immediate ceasefire as part of a hostage deal. I have a team in Cairo working on this right now,” Biden said.

Earlier Tuesday, the president phoned WCK founder Chef José Andrés to convey his condolences and express his support for the aid group’s work around the globe, Biden said.

At a White House press briefing, Kirby said the strike was “emblematic of the larger problem and evidence of why distribution of aid in Gaza has been so challenging.”

The IDF “must do much more to improve deconfliction processes,” he charged while clarifying that the WCK strike did not appear to have been intentional.

Israel earlier admitted it had mistakenly carried out the strike that the World Central Kitchen group said killed three British and four other staffers — an Australian, a Palestinian, a Pole and a US-Canadian.

Condemnation of Israel over the incident amid its war on terror group Hamas also came from other countries, including Australia, Canada and Poland.

At a joint press conference earlier Tuesday with French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné in Paris, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US had directly urged Israel to initiate “a swift, a thorough, an impartial investigation to understand exactly what happened.”

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

Blinken said Israel must do more “to protect innocent civilian lives,” be they Palestinians or aid workers.

Séjourné issued his “firm condemnation” of the strike and added that “protecting humanitarian workers is a moral and legal imperative that everyone must adhere to. Nothing justifies such a tragedy.”

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron — who has been increasingly critical of Israel’s war in Gaza — said he spoke with his Israeli counterpart Israel Katz to underline that aid worker deaths are “completely unacceptable.”

Cameron said the UK had “called on Israel to immediately investigate and provide a full, transparent explanation of what happened.” London’s Foreign Ministry said it had summoned Israel’s ambassador over the incident.

“I set out the Government’s unequivocal condemnation of the appalling killing of seven World Central Kitchen aid workers, including three British Nationals,” Britain’s minister for development and Africa, Andrew Mitchell, said.

“I requested a quick and transparent investigation, shared with the international community, and full accountability.”

Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Cameron leaves Westminster Abbey in London, at the end of the annual Commonwealth Day service ceremony, on March 11, 2024. (Daniel Leal/AFP)

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was “shocked and saddened” after learning that a Briton was among those killed.

“We’re asking Israel to investigate what happened urgently because clearly there are questions that need to be answered,” Sunak told reporters during a visit to northeast England.

He said aid workers were doing “fantastic work” to alleviate suffering in Gaza. “They need to be allowed to do that work unhindered. And it’s incumbent on Israel to make sure that they can do that,” he said.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese slammed the “completely unacceptable” attack, and called it a “tragedy that should never have occurred.”

He offered “sincere condolences” to the family of Australian volunteer Lalzawmi “Zomi” Frankcom, who was killed in the strike.

“She just wanted to help out through this charity. That says everything about the character of this young woman,” Albanese said.

File: Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese reacts during a press conference in Sydney on December 20, 2023. (David Gray/AFP)

Canada’s Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said she was calling for a full investigation.

“Canada expects full accountability for these killings and we will convey this to the Israeli government directly. Strikes on humanitarian personnel are absolutely unacceptable,” Joly said in a post on the X social media network.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said the country had also opened its own inquiry into the aid worker’s death.

Warsaw said it had asked the Israeli ambassador for “urgent explanations” about the incident, which killed one Polish citizen, and offered “condolences to the family of our brave volunteer.”

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who on Tuesday was visiting a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan, said, “I expect and demand that the Israeli government clarify as soon as possible the circumstances of this brutal attack that has taken the lives of seven aid workers who were doing nothing but helping.”

A man displays blood-stained British, Polish and Australian passports after an Israeli airstrike, in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip, April 1, 2024. (Abdel Kareem Hana/AP)

The aid workers’ deaths were “the inevitable result of the way this war is currently being conducted,” United Nations spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said, and added that the UN again called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who is also Spanish, said that “despite all the demands to protect civilians and humanitarian workers, we see new innocent casualties.”

“I condemn the attack and urge an investigation,” he wrote on X.

Criticism also came from Beijing, which said it was “shocked” by the strike.

As international condemnation swelled, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant instructed Israeli officials to “brief international organizations and partners” on Israel’s position on the “tragic” strike.

The instruction came after Gallant held an assessment with IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi and other senior military officials on the incident, his office said.

“Gallant referred to the tragic nature of the incident and emphasized the importance of conducting a thorough, professional investigation, which will be followed by the implementation of lessons learned,” according to a Defense Ministry statement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the strike was “unintentional.” The Israel Defense Forces has vowed to hold an investigation and promised to “share our findings transparently.”

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski speaks while meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, not pictured, Feb. 26, 2024, at the State Department in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

The founder and leader of World Central Kitchen, Spanish-born US-based celebrity chef Jose Andres, said he was “heartbroken and grieving for their families and friends and our whole WCK family.”

“The Israeli government needs to stop this indiscriminate killing,” he wrote on social media. “It needs to stop restricting humanitarian aid, stop killing civilians and aid workers, and stop using food as a weapon.”

The charity said it had coordinated its movements with the Israeli army and was traveling in vehicles branded with its logo.

It has paused its operations in Gaza. Israel hopes that the World Central Kitchen will return to the Gaza Strip to continue its humanitarian work, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel.

There is not currently a plan in place in the event World Central Kitchen does not come back after the deadly strike on its convoy, the official noted.

The United Arab Emirates is also pausing humanitarian aid efforts through the maritime corridor pending further safety guarantees and a full investigation, a UAE official told Reuters.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant visits the IDF Northern Command HQ in Safed, March 29, 2024. (Shachar Yurman/Defense Ministry)

War erupted on October 7 when Palestinian terror group Hamas led a massive cross-border attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 253 hostages.

Israel responded with a military offensive to destroy Hamas, topple its Gaza regime, and free the hostages of whom 130 remain in captivity, some of them dead.

Negotiations via international mediators — including the US — for even a temporary ceasefire have failed to produce an agreement though talks continue. A negotiated weeklong lull in November saw the release of 105 hostages, mostly women and children, in return for Israel setting free 240 Palestinian security prisoners it had jailed and increasing humanitarian aid to Gaza.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne, not pictured, hold a joint press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris, France, April 2, 2024. (Benoit Tessier/Pool Photo via AP)

At the Paris press conference, Blinken said both the US and Israel “agree on the need to get to the quickest possible ceasefire, to allow the release of hostages, to enable the surge and sustainment of humanitarian assistance.”

In response to a question on continued US weapons supplies to Israel, Blinken defended the policy saying they go to defense, deterrence and replenishment against threats beyond Hamas, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group and its sponsor, Iran.

A member of the World Central Kitchen prepares a pallet with humanitarian aid for transport to the port of Larnaca from where it will be shipped to Gaza, at a warehouse near Larnaca, Cyprus, on March 13, 2024. (Petros Karadjias/AP)

Séjourné, in his remarks, also called for all hostages to be released immediately and without conditions, that all civilians must be protected, and that massive humanitarian aid must be delivered.

Founded in the wake of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, World Central Kitchen is one of the largest charities working in Gaza. An apolitical group, it has earned the appreciation of Israel’s government for its help with Israelis displaced after October 7. It has been a trailblazer in transferring aid into Gaza, going so far as to construct an improvised pier out of debris on which to land supplies for the embattled enclave.

Israel has faced intense international pressure to ensure more aid gets into the Strip, especially hard-to-reach areas of northern Gaza, amid repeated warnings that the population faces starvation and famine.

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