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World Central Kitchen calls for independent investigation into Israeli air strike on Gaza aid workers

World Central Kitchen calls for independent investigation into Israeli air strike on Gaza aid workers

Humanitarian food charity World Central Kitchen has called for an independent investigation into the Israeli air strike that killed seven of its aid workers, including three British nationals, in Gaza on Monday.

WCK issued a statement on Thursday morning calling for the governments of Australia, Canada, the US, the UK and Poland – the countries from which six of the workers hailed – to join a third-party investigation into the drone bombardment on the charity’s convoy.

The investigation must establish “whether [the drone strikes] were carried out intentionally or otherwise violated international law”, it said in a statement on Thursday.

The charity has said seven of its workers, including a Palestinian driver, were killed by a sustained drone barrage against their marked convoy, after unloading 100 tonnes of food aid from a barge on 1 April.

The victims include British nationals John Chapman, 57, James “Jim” Henderson, 33, and James Kirby, 47.

The killings have drawn widespread condemnation from world leaders, including rare and forthright criticism of Israel from US president Joe Biden, who said he was “outraged and heartbroken” and accused his ally of not doing enough to protect aid workers.

Israeli president Isaac Herzog has apologised for the deaths and prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the attack was unintended and “tragic” while pledging an inquiry.

The charity said it has asked the Israeli government to immediately keep all the records, including documents, communications, and video and audio recordings relevant to the strikes.

A Palestinian man rides a bicycle past a damaged vehicle where employees from the World Central Kitchen (WCK), including foreigners, were killed in an Israeli airstrike amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Deir Al-Balah, in central Gaza Strip on 2 April 2024 (REUTERS)
A Palestinian man rides a bicycle past a damaged vehicle where employees from the World Central Kitchen (WCK), including foreigners, were killed in an Israeli airstrike amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Deir Al-Balah, in central Gaza Strip on 2 April 2024 (REUTERS)

“An independent investigation is the only way to determine the truth of what happened, ensure transparency and accountability for those responsible, and prevent future attacks on humanitarian aid workers,” the statement added.

The joint statement by chief executive Erin Gore and executive co-chairman Javier Garcia said “the Israeli Defence Forces killed seven humanitarian aid workers” employed by the WCK.

“The aid workers killed were nationals of Australia, Canada/US (dual citizen), Gaza, Poland, and the United Kingdom,” it said.

Undated handout photo issued by World Central Kitchen of Briton James
Undated handout photo issued by World Central Kitchen of Briton James "Jim" Henderson, one of the World Central Kitchen seven aid workers who were killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza. Issue date: Wednesday 3 April 2024 (World Central Kitchen/WCK.org/PA Wire)

“Israel has admitted to the killings but called it ‘a tragic event in which our forces unintentionally harmed non-combatants and something that happens in war’,” the statement noted.

The three vehicles which were carrying the civilians were clearly marked with WCK logos and targeted with multiple strikes, it said.

A vehicle damaged in an Israeli airstrike in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza, 2 April 2024 (REUTERS)
A vehicle damaged in an Israeli airstrike in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza, 2 April 2024 (REUTERS)

“Their movements were in full compliance with Israeli authorities, who were aware of their itinerary, route, and humanitarian mission,” they said.

British prime minister Rishi Sunak has “demanded a thorough and transparent independent investigation” into the killings in Gaza.

Downing Street said Mr Sunak spoke to Mr Netanyahu on Tuesday evening and conveyed that he was “appalled” by the drone strike. “The prime minister said far too many aid workers and ordinary civilians have lost their lives in Gaza and the situation is increasingly intolerable,” it said.

Palestinians inspect a vehicle with the logo of the World Central Kitchen wrecked by an Israeli airstrike in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, 2 April  2024 (AP)
Palestinians inspect a vehicle with the logo of the World Central Kitchen wrecked by an Israeli airstrike in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, 2 April 2024 (AP)

Mr Biden, who has been criticised for providing American military, financial and diplomatic support to Mr Netanyahu throughout Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, said: “The United States has repeatedly urged Israel to deconflict their military operations against Hamas with humanitarian operations, in order to avoid civilian casualties.”

It comes as the US and the UK governments are under intense pressure to suspend arms sales to Israel.

More than 600 lawyers, including former Supreme Court justices, have signed a letter to demand that the British government cut off defence exports to Israel amid the war in Gaza. The letter said the government risks breaching international law by continuing to allow the export of weapons.

Britain is accused of being complicit in the strike following claims by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) that weapons used in the attack were powered by UK-made engines. It said the Israeli army struck the convoy with a Hermes 450 drone – known as a “Zik” drone in Israel – which could have been powered by a British component.

The remains of six foreign WCK workers have been transported to Egypt for repatriation, while their 25-year-old Palestinian colleague was laid to rest in his hometown of Rafah, located in southern Gaza, on Tuesday.