Updated Apr 5, 2024 - World

Israeli military finds strike on aid workers was "serious violation" of rules

Palestinians are standing next to a destroyed vehicle in Deir Al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip, on April 2, 2024, where employees from the World Central Kitchen were killed in an Israeli airstrike.

Palestinians stand next to a vehicle in Deir Al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip, on April 2, 2024, where employees from the World Central Kitchen were killed in an Israeli airstrike. Photo: Yasser Qudihe/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty Images

An internal investigation by the Israeli military concluded that the strike on the World Central Kitchen convoy in Gaza earlier this week that killed seven aid workers was "a serious violation" of the Israeli Defense Forces' rules and operating procedures, the IDF said Friday.

Why it matters: The swift investigation and the subsequent decision to take disciplinary steps against top officers shows that the IDF is taking the incident more seriously than previous cases, as Israel faces intensifying global scrutiny of its actions in Gaza.

  • It is also a testament to the Israeli government's effort to signal that it has taken action that will allow WCK and other aid groups to resume operations in Gaza and prevent the humanitarian crisis from becoming even more dire.

Driving the news: Two senior officers were dismissed and three other senior officers were reprimanded, the IDF announced Friday.

  • "The investigation's findings indicate that the incident should not have occurred," the IDF said.
  • "Those who approved the strike were convinced that they were targeting armed Hamas operatives and not WCK employees," it added.

Zoom in: "The investigation found that the forces identified a gunman on one of the aid trucks, following which they identified an additional gunman," the IDF said.

  • When the aid convoy left the warehouse where it had delivered food, "one of the commanders mistakenly assumed that the gunmen were located inside the accompanying vehicles and that these were Hamas terrorists," the IDF said.
  • The military claims it did not identify the vehicles — which were marked with WCK branding — as being associated with the humanitarian group.

What they're saying: "The strike on the aid vehicles is a grave mistake stemming from a serious failure due to a mistaken identification, errors in decision-making, and an attack contrary to the Standard Operating Procedures," the IDF said.

  • "We consider the vital humanitarian activity of international aid organizations to be of utmost importance, and we will continue to work to coordinate and assist their activities, while ensuring their safety and safeguarding their lives," the IDF said.
  • An IDF spokesperson said the rules of engagement do not allow targeting aid convoys even if there are armed Hamas operatives near them.

The big picture: In a statement Friday morning, WCK said the military probe's findings and disciplinary action against senior officers were "important steps forward."

  • But the aid group, headed by chef José Andrés, demanded the creation of an independent commission and said its operations in the region remain suspended.
  • "The IDF cannot credibly investigate its own failure in Gaza," the organization said.
  • "The IDF has acknowledged that our teams followed all proper communications procedures," the statement said. "The IDF's own video fails to show any cause to fire on our personnel convoy, which carried no weapons and posed no threat."

Behind the scenes: The IDF said it presented the results of the investigation to WCK representatives on Thursday and reiterated its "deep sorrow about the incident."

  • The findings were also presented in briefings to the ambassadors of the U.S., Poland, the U.K., Australia and Canada, whose citizens were among those killed in the incident. It was also presented to the Israeli security cabinet, the IDF spokesperson said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. has received the IDF report and is "reviewing it very carefully."

  • "It's very important that Israel is taking full responsibility for this incident," Blinken said Friday. "It's also important that it appears to be taking steps to hold those responsible accountable." 
  • He said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told President Biden that Israel would "be making further changes to its procedures" to ensure the safety of humanitarian workers, and that the U.S. will "be looking very carefully at what those steps are."
  • Blinken also called on Israel to better protect civilians in Gaza, saying "military operations need to be designed around their protection, not the other way around."

State of play: WCK called on Israel to "dramatically increase the volume of food and medicine traveling by land" and better protect aid workers.

  • "Without systemic change, there will be more military failures, more apologies and more grieving families," WCK added.
  • The Israeli cabinet on Thursday approved new steps to increase the flow of humanitarian aid to Gaza hours after a tense call between Biden and Netanyahu.
  • The cabinet approved the opening of the Erez crossing in the northern Gaza Strip for the first time since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, as well as the use of the Ashdod port as a hub for aid delivery to Gaza.

Go deeper: Biden says Israel "has not done enough to protect aid workers" in Gaza

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details from the IDF's statement, as well as with comment from WCK and Sec. Blinken.

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