Biden administration ‘outraged’ by Israeli strike that killed 7 aid workers, as humanitarian groups suspend operations in Gaza
Palestinians stand next to a vehicle, where volunteers from the World Central Kitchen, including foreigners, were killed in an Israeli airstrike, according to the NGO, in Deir Al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip, April 2, 2024.
(Photo: . (Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto/Getty Images)0

By Ron Kampeas
April 2, 2024

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Biden White House expressed its “outrage” over an Israeli drone strike Monday that killed seven aid workers with the World Central Kitchen and said the Israeli military must improve its coordination with groups delivering humanitarian assistance.

“We were outraged to learn of an IDF strike that killed a number of civilian humanitarian workers yesterday from the World Central Kitchen, which has been relentless in working to get food to those who are hungry in Gaza,” said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby at the daily reporters’ briefing at the White House on Tuesday afternoon.

Asked if the White House was joining other world leaders who condemned the bombing, Kirby said yes.

“By saying we’re outraged, you can fairly conclude we are condemning the strike,” he said.

The killing and the outcry it has stirred, even among supporters of Israel, could mark a turning point after months of pressure on Israel to do more to allow the entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza. Humanitarian aid groups have warned that the enclave is on the verge of large-scale famine, a crisis almost sure to worsen as multiple aid providers announced in the wake of Monday’s strike that they would pause operations in Gaza.

Anera, an organization that for years has delivered assistance to Gaza Palestinians, and the United Arab Emirates suspended deliveries. A boat with 240 tons of food for Gaza turned back to Cyprus on Tuesday, following the attack and World Central Kitchen’s announcement that it was pausing operations in Gaza,

“As it stands, currently delivering aid puts not just humanitarian workers at risk but also those who are receiving the aid,” Anera said in a statement. “Our team in Gaza has determined that at this point the risk of actively delivering aid is far too great.”

Kirby said the investigation Israel has promised must be “as transparent as possible” and said the Biden administration wanted to see changes soon.

“The IDF must do much more to improve deconfliction processes so that civilian and humanitarian workers are protected,” he said.

And in a solemn statement earlier in the day, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the killed aid workers “show the best of what humanity has to offer when the going really gets tough. They have to be protected. We shouldn’t have a situation where people who are simply trying to help their fellow human beings are themselves at grave risk.”

Israeli officials have acknowledged responsibility for the strike, have apologized and are promising changes. Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said in a statement that he would elevate consultation between Israel’s security establishment and aid organizations, promising to “promptly open a joint situation room – a platform that enables coordination between the IDF’s Southern Command and international organizations vis-à-vis the distribution of aid.”

The delivery of assistance until now has been coordinated with a division of the Israeli military that is not part of the offensive command structure of the war. Bringing in the Southern Command would connect assistance organizations more directly with the military officials ordering strikes.

On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized for the strike, following an initial statement in which he accepted responsibility. “Israel deeply regrets the tragic incident which claimed the lives of seven humanitarian aid workers,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “Our hearts go out to their families and to their home countries.”

Israeli President Isaac Herzog spoke with World Central Kitchen founder Jose Andres and “expressed his deep sorrow and sincere apologies over the tragic loss of life of WCK staff,” according to a statement.

In his remarks, Kirby noted that this was not the first incident in which aid workers were caught in the line of fire. “Setting aside this incident, because this isn’t the first one, there are issues of deconfliction that clearly need to be fleshed out and improved,” he said.

Other leaders have been sharper in their condemnations of Israel.

“The protection – the situation – humanitarian situation is disastrous and is worsening day after day, and nothing justifies such a tragedy,” French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné said in Paris at a meeting with Blinken.

Kirby’s call for better deconfliction methods was echoed on X, formerly Twitter, by British Foreign Secretary David Cameron. “Israel must urgently explain how this happened & make major changes to ensure safety of aid workers on the ground,” Cameron said.

The strike came as Netanyahu is in fraught talks with the Biden administration, which has backed Israel through nearly all of the war, over Israel’s plans to invade Rafah, the city on Gaza’s border with Egypt that Israel says is the last redoubt of Hamas. President Joe Biden wants Israel to explain how the more than 1 million civilians sheltering in Rafah, often at Israel’s behest, will be protected.

The war began on Oct. 7 when Hamas invaded Israel, killing some 1,200 people and taking more than 250 people hostage. Since then, More than 32,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. More than 250 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the invasion.

The White House still appears supportive of the overall Israeli war effort. Kirby pushed back against reporters who asked if his condemnation meant the Biden administration would leverage its defense assistance to Israel, answering growing demands among Democrats in Congress.

“We’re still going to make sure they can defend themselves and the seventh of October doesn’t happen again,” he said. But he added, “That doesn’t mean that it’s a free pass, that we look the other way when something like this happens.”

Leave a Reply