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Israel fires officers over deadly drone attack on aid convoy

April 5, 2024

Israel says it has dismissed two officers for their roles in drone strikes in Gaza that killed seven aid workers. An investigation said the pair had violated military rules of engagement.

One of the World Central Kitchen vehicles hit in the drone attack on Monday
The Israeli military insisted the killing of seven aid workers was a "tragic mistake"Image: Omar Ashtawy/APA Images/Zuma/dpa/picture alliance

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on Friday said two officers who were involved in a deadly strike on the World Central Kitchen (WCK) in Gaza, killing seven workers on a food delivery mission, had been dismissed.

The findings of an investigation into the Monday killings said the soldiers had mishandled critical information and violated the army's terms of engagement.

The brigade officers who ordered the strikes, a colonel and a major, were dismissed, while senior commanders were also formally reprimanded.

What did Israel say about the strike?

The victims — an Australian, three Britons, a US-Canadian citizen, a Palestinian, and a Pole — were killed in three air strikes over four minutes by an Israeli drone. They were said to have run for their lives between their vehicles as the attack was in progress.

An internal Israeli military inquiry found that the drone team who killed them made an "operational misjudgment of the situation."

It said the team had spotted a suspected Hamas gunman shooting from the top of one of the aid trucks they were escorting.

"The strike on the aid vehicles is a grave mistake stemming from a serious failure due to a mistaken identification, errors in decision-making, and an attack contrary to the Standard Operating Procedures," the military said in a statement on Friday.

The three aid workers' vehicles had been emblazoned with large WCK logos. However, retired Israeli general Yoav Har-Even, who is leading the investigation, said the drone's camera could not see them because it was dark. "This was a key factor in the chain of events," he said.

Demand for more stringent inquiry

WCK said it wanted an "independent commission to investigate the killings," and that the Israeli military "cannot credibly" investigate its own failure.

Poland said it had demanded a "criminal inquiry" by Israel into what it termed the "murder" of one its citizens. 

"We want [Polish] prosecutors to be added and implicated in the explanations and in the entire criminal and disciplinary procedure for the soldiers responsible for this... murder," Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Szejna said. 

In the wake of the strikes, US President Joe Biden said he was "outraged." In a tense telephone call late Thursday, Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that future US support for the war in Gaza depended on Israel taking more action to protect civilians and aid workers.

Britain, Canada, and Australia have all condemned the WCK killings and demanded answers from Israel about what happened.

Tough conditions on the ground

Aid groups say conditions have become increasingly difficult, pointing to serious shortcomings in the coordination system intended to keep their workers safe from Israeli strikes. 

Meanwhile, the UN has long complained of obstacles to getting aid into Gaza and distributing it throughout the territory.

Israeli authorities require that they be allowed to inspect all deliveries before allowing them into Gaza, and the number of trucks entering remains a fraction of what aid agencies say is needed.

Aid to Gaza: Expert says more US pressure needed

The Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip's Health Ministry says more than 33,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the current war.

The conflict began on October 7, when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel resulting in the deaths of some 1,200 people, mostly civilians. Hamas, listed as a terrorist group in the United States and European Union, and other Islamist militants also took some 250 people hostage.

rc/lo (AP, dpa)