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Israeli military admits 'grave mistake' in killing of seven aid workers

Interim results of a 72-hour investigation revealed the aid group had shared information with the military about the convoy
A person looks at a vehicle where employees from the World Central Kitchen were killed in an Israeli air strike, in Deir Al-Balah, in central Gaza, 2 April 2024 (REUTERS)

The Israeli military has said that its soldiers made a "grave mistake" in targeting a humanitarian convoy with a series of air strikes that killed seven international aid workers on Monday.

The deaths of workers for the World Central Kitchen, which included three Britons, an Australian, a Pole, a Palestinian and a dual US-Canadian citizen have been widely denounced by governments and organisations.

The aid workers were killed in three consecutive strikes by Israeli drones on the WCK vehicles which were delivering 100 tonnes of food aid to a Deir al-Balah warehouse.

In response to a preliminary investigation into the attack by the Israeli army, the WCK demanded an "independent commission to investigate the killings", saying the Israeli military "cannot credibly" probe its own failure.

On Friday, the interim findings of the investigation revealed that the WCK had correctly alerted the army about its convoy, and that the vehicles were clearly branded with the organisation's logo, but this information had not been cascaded down the chain of command.

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Yoav Har-Even, a retired military officer who led the investigation, said that Israeli military drones could not recognise the WCK logos at night, and called the strikes a "grave mistake" and "breach of the army's standard operating procedures".

According to Har-Even, Israeli forces mistook one of the WCK staff, who was carrying a bag, for a gunman.

"The forces that conducted the strike did not know they were striking WCK vehicles," Har-Even said. "They were convinced that they were targeting Hamas operatives in vehicles."

WCK CEO Erin Gore described the apologies from the Israeli military as "cold comfort for the victims' families and WCK's global family", adding that the organisation's work "remains suspended".

In a statement in response to the investigation, the WCK said that it was clear that the military had "deployed deadly force without regard to its own protocols, chain of command and rules of engagement".

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"Without systemic change, there will be more military failures, more apologies and more grieving families," it read.

On Thursday, US President Joe Biden warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that continued US support for Israel was contingent on Israel taking "specific, concrete and measurable steps to address civilian harm, humanitarian suffering and the safety of aid workers".

On Friday, the army confirmed that two officers had been dismissed and another two formally reprimanded, including the commander of the Southern Command, for the attack.

This follows an investigation by Al Jazeera's Sanad verification agency that found that the Israeli strikes on the WCK vehicles were intentional.

The report was based on open-source information, witness testimonies and images from the site, through which the network constructed a chronological and geographical timeline.

The attack has wiped out WCK's entire operations team in Gaza, prompting the organisation to suspend its operations.

Since the start of the war, the organisation has provided at least 43 million meals to Palestinians in Gaza through aid delivered by land, sea and air. 

"The World Central Kitchen is a critical organisation feeding half a million people each day with hot meals," a media spokesperson for the World Food Programme (WFP) in Gaza said. "We can't afford to lose that."

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