“Operational Misjudgment”: Israel Admits Killing 7 Gaza Aid Workers

Seven aid workers in Gaza were killed in three Israeli air strikes on Monday

Tel Aviv:

Israel said Friday it was targeting a “Hamas gunman” when it killed in Gaza seven aid workers whose deaths caused an international outcry, with its military admitting a series of “grave mistakes” and violations of its own rules of engagement.

The victims — an Australian, Britons, a North American, a Palestinian and a Pole — were killed in three air strikes over four minutes by an Israeli drone as they ran for their lives between their three vehicles, the military said.

Poland’s foreign ministry said it still cannot understand how such an incident could have occurred. It demanded a “criminal inquiry” into Monday’s events.

The drone team who killed the aid workers made an “operational misjudgement of the situation” after spotting a suspected Hamas gunman shooting from the top of one of the aid trucks they were escorting, an internal Israeli military inquiry found.

The two brigade officers who ordered the strikes, a colonel and a major, are being fired.

Senior Israeli officers showed reporters clips from drone footage of what they said was a “Hamas operative” joining the US-based World Central Kitchen (WCK) convoy. 

Although the roofs of the three aid workers’ vehicles were emblazoned with large WCK logos, retired Israeli general Yoav Har-Even, who is leading the investigation, said the drone’s camera could not see them in the dark.

“This was a key factor in the chain of events,” he said.

The aid group has said its team was travelling in a “de-conflicted” area in a convoy of “two armoured cars branded with the WCK logo and a soft skin vehicle” at the time of the strike.

“Despite coordinating movements with the (Israeli army), the convoy was hit as it was leaving the Deir al-Balah warehouse, where the team had unloaded more than 100 tons of humanitarian food aid brought to Gaza on the maritime route,” WCK said.

The army said aid was moved at night to avoid the potential of deadly stampedes by hungry Gazans.

The aid workers’ deaths “outraged” US President Joe Biden who demanded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu order steps toward an “immediate ceasefire” in a tense telephone call late Thursday.

Israel later said it would allow “temporary” aid deliveries into northern Gaza, where the United Nations has warned of imminent famine.

Har-Even admitted that “the three air strikes were in violation of standard operating procedures”. 

But he argued that “the state of mind” of the Israeli drone commanders “was that they were striking cars that had been seized by Hamas” after they confused a bag for a gun.

The aid workers were killed after they had overseen the unloading of a ship carrying 300 tonnes of food aid from Cyprus to a warehouse inland.

But as they drove south at 11:09 pm on April 1 the drone “struck one car, and identified people running out of the car and entering the second car,” said General Har-Even. 

“They decided to hit it, which was against standard operating procedures. Then they struck the third car,” he said.

Asked by AFP, the general was not able to explain what happened to the “Hamas gunman”.

“It is a tragedy. It is a serious mistake that we are responsible for,” Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari told reporters. “A mega event… that shouldn’t have happened. We will make sure it won’t happen again.”

Har-Even said it was a breakdown in communication and coordination about the convoy in the chain of military command which may have led to the strikes.

He said that WCK had provided all the information necessary, but it was not passed down. 

“The biggest mistake was that (the drone team) didn’t have the coordination plan,” he said. “Their belief was the vehicles were Hamas based on operational misjudgement and misclassification.” 

The general briefed WFK founder, Spanish-born celebrity chef Jose Andres, early Friday before information on the circumstances of the strikes were released. Andres had called the attack a “targeted Israeli strike” on his staff.

The bloodiest ever Gaza war erupted with Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack which resulted in the deaths of about 1,170 Israelis and foreigners, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.

Israel’s retaliatory campaign, aimed at destroying Hamas, has killed at least 33,091 people, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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