Israel accused of targeting aid convoy ‘car by car’ as pressure grows over Gaza tactics

Israel is facing mounting international pressure to justify its conduct in the war in Gaza as the bodies of six foreign aid workers killed in a drone attack were repatriated to their families.

Seven members of World Central Kitchen (WCK) were killed when a drone repeatedly hit their convoy of three cars, which were clearly identified as belonging to the charity, after it left an aid warehouse in the central town of Deir al-Balah on Monday night.

WCK’s founder, the chef José Andrés, said the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had targeted the convoy “systematically, car by car”, even though they were in touch with WCK and were aware of the aid workers’ movements.

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“This was not a bad luck situation where, ‘oops’, we dropped the bomb in the wrong place,” he told Reuters. “Even if we were not in coordination with the IDF, no democratic country and no military can be targeting civilians and humanitarians.”

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the IDF have apologised for the killings, and said that an investigation was under way. Israel’s defence minister, Yoav Gallant, said on Tuesday that Israel would open a “joint situation room” with international groups to enable better coordination of aid distribution.

The circumstances surrounding the killings have renewed scrutiny of Israel’s targeting methods and decision-making process in ordering air and drone strikes. According to a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the convoy did not contain any suspected militants and had been travelling along a route pre-approved and coordinated with the Israeli military.

More than 200 aid workers in the territory have been killed in nearly six months of conflict, along with scores of medical staff, journalists and civil response workers. The Guardian reported on Wednesday that IDF officials had permitted large numbers of Palestinian civilians to be killed in “dumb” bomb strikes targeting even low-level Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants, based on what intelligence sources said was an AI-driven system that in many cases risked “attacking by mistake”.

The Palestinian death toll in the conflict reached 33,000 people on Wednesday, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory, which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants. With many bodies still trapped under the rubble of destroyed buildings, the true figure is likely to be higher.

WCK named the seven victims as the Palestinian driver Saif Issam Abu Taha, 25; Britons John Chapman, 57, James Henderson, 33, and James Kirby, 47, who were working for the charity’s security team; and aid workers Lalzawmi (Zomi) Frankcom, 43, an Australian national; Jacob Flickinger, 33, a dual American-Canadian citizen; and Damian Sobol, 35, a Polish national.

Abu Taha’s remains were handed over to his family for burial in Gaza on Wednesday, and the other bodies were driven into Egypt through the Rafah crossing, now the Palestinian territory’s sole connection to the outside world, to be flown home.

The victims’ governments, as well as Palestinian officials and Spain, Andrés’s birthplace, have demanded a full and transparent investigation, with some voicing particular anger at Netanyahu’s explanation that “this happens in wartime’’.

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All of the foreign victims come from countries friendly to Israel. WCK also deployed teams to help thousands of displaced Israelis in the wake of the 7 October attack by Hamas in which Israel says 1,200 people were killed and 250 abducted, triggering the war.

Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, called Netanyahu’s remarks “unacceptable and insufficient”. He said: “We are awaiting a much stronger and more detailed clarification, after which we’ll see what action to take.”

Poland is understood to have launched its own investigation into Sobol’s death. Donald Tusk, the country’s prime minister, addressed Netanyahu and Yacov Livne, the Israeli ambassador to Poland, in a post on X, which said: “The vast majority of Poles showed full solidarity with Israel after the Hamas attack (on Oct 7).

“Today you are putting this solidarity to a really hard test. The tragic attack on volunteers and your [Netanyahu’s] reaction arouse understandable anger.”

Joe Biden, who has provided strong diplomatic and military backing for Israel’s offensive, also offered a stern rebuke on Tuesday. The US president told reporters Israel had not done enough to protect aid workers and civilians.

US rhetoric on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza has strengthened of late, but critics say Biden has opted not to use Washington’s leverage as Israel’s principal arms supplier and most important international ally to bring it to the negotiating table, or get it to increase the flow of aid to the territory’s desperate population of 2.3 million.

Famine is “projected and imminent” in the northern half of Gaza, a UN-backed report said last month, and according to Oxfam the number of people facing catastrophic levels of hunger across the territory as a whole has nearly doubled since December.

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At least 27 children have died of malnutrition, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

Getting assistance to where it is needed most, particularly the northern half of the territory, has been made difficult by damaged roads, a lack of fuel, a breakdown of public order and what aid agencies have described as unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles imposed by Israel. The number of aid trucks entering the territory by land over the past six months has been far below the 500 a day that entered before the conflict.

The UN said on Wednesday it had suspended movements at night in Gaza for at least 48 hours to evaluate security issues after the killing of the WCK staff.

Israel has barred Unrwa, the main UN agency in Gaza, from making deliveries to the north after claiming several of its employees were involved in the Hamas attack that triggered the war. Other aid groups say sending truck convoys north has been too dangerous because of the military’s failure to ensure safe passage.

Negotiations intended to establish a second truce and the release of the remaining hostages have faltered repeatedly since a week-long ceasefire at the end of November.

The UN’s human rights council is expected to consider a draft resolution on Friday calling for an arms embargo on Israel, citing the “plausible risk of genocide in Gaza”. If adopted, it would mark the first time that the body has taken a position on the war.