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Britain demands investigation into Israeli airstrike that killed aid workers

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks to political editor Harry Cole of The Sun newspaper in London, April 3, 2024. (Credit: 'Never Mind the Ballots'/'The Sun')
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks to political editor Harry Cole of The Sun newspaper in London, April 3, 2024. (Credit: 'Never Mind the Ballots'/'The Sun')

Britain has called for an immediate investigation into an Israeli airstrike Monday on an aid convoy that killed seven aid workers, including three British citizens, in Gaza.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak rejected calls to suspend arms shipments to Israel amid mounting global anger over the attack.

The bodies of six of the seven victims were taken out of Gaza on Wednesday in a convoy of ambulances through the Rafah crossing into Egypt. The body of the seventh worker, a Palestinian driver, was turned over to his family for burial in Gaza.

Monday's attack struck several vehicles being used by the World Central Kitchen charity. Video of the aftermath clearly showed the charity's logo on the roof of a vehicle, next to a gaping hole apparently caused by a missile.

The three British victims were identified as 57-year-old John Chapman, 47-year-old James Kirby and 33-year-old James Henderson.

Sunak said he had spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a phone call on Tuesday.

"I … was very clear with him that the situation is increasingly intolerable, and what we urgently need to see is a thorough, transparent investigation into what has happened, but also a dramatic increase in the amount of aid getting into Gaza," Sunak told The Sun newspaper.

"I think we've always had a very careful export licensing regime that we adhere to. There are a set of rules, regulations and procedures that we'll always follow, and I've been consistently clear with Prime Minister Netanyahu since the start of this conflict that whilst, of course, we defend Israel's right to defend itself and its people against attacks from Hamas, they have to do that in accordance with international humanitarian law," Sunak said.

Britain says Gaza situation ‘intolerable,’ demands investigation into Israeli airstrike
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The opposition Labour Party's shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy said the government's legal advice on Israel's conduct in its war on Hamas must be published.

"If it is the case that international law has been contravened, then it is absolutely right that offensive arms are suspended to Israel," Lammy told reporters Wednesday.

The three British victims were providing security for World Central Kitchen through the firm Solace Global. The firm's non-executive director, Matthew Harding, said it was difficult to know exactly what had happened.

"We have looked very closely already at everything that preceded and went on after the incident. We are completely satisfied that all measures were correctly taken and executed" by his company, Harding told BBC News.

The other victims of the airstrike included the group's Palestinian driver, 25-year-old Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha; 43-year-old Australian national Lalzawmi Frankcom, who was World Central Kitchen's relief lead in Gaza; 35-year-old Polish citizen Damian Sobol; and 33-year-old Jacob Flickinger, a U.S.-Canadian citizen.

Their governments have echoed calls for a swift investigation.

Israel said it did not intend to target the aid workers.

"It was a mistake that followed a misidentification at night, during a war, in very complex conditions. It shouldn't have happened," Herzi Halevi, Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, said in a televised statement on Tuesday.

Israeli government spokesperson Ilana Stein said Wednesday that the government regretted the "awful" incident.

"This is a very complex war situation. Every war is very difficult. It's very messy, it's very dangerous, and it has casualties that we would all rather not have on the Israeli side and on the Palestinian side," Stein told reporters in Tel Aviv.

"Having said that, Israel has been checking itself every day. We have been reviewing our actions in different manners, also in the field, but also regarding what we can do to distribute aid."

The organization Human Rights Watch rejected her explanation.

"Israel's deadly attack on World Central Kitchen aid workers in Gaza displays the characteristics of a precision airstrike, indicating that the Israeli military intended to hit the vehicles. World Central Kitchen coordinated its coordinates and its movements with the Israeli government. Their vehicles were clearly marked," said Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch.

"This is not an isolated incident. The Israeli government has killed at least 196 aid workers in Gaza, according to the United Nations," Shakir told VOA.

Israel maintains it makes every effort to avoid civilian casualties.

World Central Kitchen has suspended its operations in Gaza. The organization said it has provided more than 42 million meals since its operations began there 6 months ago.

In an article Wednesday in The New York Times, Jose Andres, the charity's founder, said the attack was "the direct result of [Israel's] policy that squeezed humanitarian aid to desperate levels."

Despite widespread accusations from aid agencies that Israel is obstructing relief supplies into Gaza, Israel denies it is blocking aid and blames Hamas for the delays, which it accuses of using hospitals and aid facilities as military bases.

Hamas denies that claim and says Israel is using hunger as a weapon of war.