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An American aid worker was killed by Israel. What will President Biden do about it?

Earlier this year, Biden said he would ‘respond’ to any country that harms an American citizen

Katie Hawkinson
Tuesday 02 April 2024 22:02
A car, bearing the World Central Kitchen logo, that was damaged by an IDF airstrike
A car, bearing the World Central Kitchen logo, that was damaged by an IDF airstrike (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

On Tuesday, World Central Kitchen made a grave announcement: Seven of their aid workers had been killed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in Gaza.

The non-profit humanitarian aid organisation founded by celebrity chef José Andrés said their members, who were travelling in cars branded with the charity’s logo, were killed in an airstrike. One of those killed was an American-Canadian who has yet to be publicly named.

The IDF launched the airstrike despite the organization coordinating their movements with the military, World Central Kitchen said in a statement. Now, they are pulling out of Gaza entirely.

President Joe Biden spoke with Mr Andrés after the bombing, according to White House spokesperson Karinne Jean-Pierre. When pressed by reporters on Tuesday about how the United States might respond, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the US is waiting on the results of an investigation by Israeli officials into what they’ve called an “erroneous strike”.

Aid worker killed in Gaza speaks to The Independent's Bel Trew weeks before airstrike

Things got even more complicated when Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the fatal attack on the convoy consisted of three separate missile strikes. The Haaretz report said aid workers removed their wounded colleagues from the vehicle that was hit in the first missile strike and transferred them to two surviving vehicles. But as they attempted to then escape, subsequent strikes on the second and third vehicles killed all seven workers.

Mr Kirby was asked by The Independent’s Andrew Feinberg on Tuesday about why the White House would accept the Israeli explanation of a “mistake” if there were second and third missile hits that appeared to target survivors and only cease once everyone in the convoy was killed.

“The Prime Minister and the IDF have noted that it was their error, if you don’t like the word mistake,” Mr Kirby said. “They’re investigating it. Let them do that work and let them see what they come up with. And then we’ll go from there.”

His words regarding a strike that killed an American citizen seemed tame in comparison to just two months ago, when the president himself issued a headline-making statement: “If you harm an American, we will respond.” That proclamation came after a drone strike that killed three American troops in Jordan. That drone strike was reportedly conducted by an Iran-backed militia.

This week, Mr Kirby went on to tell reporters there has been no “wholesale declination” of humanitarian assistance in Gaza. Yet, some 200 aid workers in Gaza have been killed in the Palestinian territory since October 7 — a fact Mr Kirby himself acknowleged. And with World Central Kitchen, one of the most prominent aid groups in Gaza, pulling out as famine spreads, access to humanitarian aid in Gaza certainly does appear to be in great decline.

The United Nations and other international organizations have warned for a while now that famine is no longer just a threat, but a reality for the millions in Gaza. World Central Kitchen says it provided more than 43 million meals to the 2.2 million people living in the territory since October 7. The cessation of this service will be felt keenly.

This is not the only aid organisation that has found Israel’s attacks too dangerous to operate around. World Food Program, a United Nations agency, paused aid deliveries to northern Gaza in February amid “complete chaos and violence due to the collapse of civil order.” That suspension came just days after a prior three-week suspension ended. And the initial suspension was the result of an IDF strike on a United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) truck.

UNRWA has been essential in delivering aid to Gaza (REUTERS)

UNRWA has been the main provider of food, water and shelter in Gaza for the past six months. But the group had its US funding cut off by President Biden until at least March 2025 after Israel claimed some 450 UNRWA employees were members of Gaza militant groups.

Australia, Sweden and Canada will all continue to fund the organisation. The European Union also pledged $54 million to UNRWA earlier this month after the agency agreed to allow EU-appointed experts to audit the way it screens staff to identify extremists.

Meanwhile, the seven World Central Kitchen workers killed by the IDF are still being identified. The confirmed victims include Zomi Frankcom, 43, an Australian; Damian Sobol, 35, a Polish citizen; and Saif Issam Abu Taha, 27, a Palestinian driver. Three of the victims were British citizens — the BBC has identified them as John Chapman, James Henderson and James Kirby.

The Independent’s Bel Trew spoke to one of those killed — Frankcom — just weeks before the deadly attack.

Frankcom said at the time that she and her team were determined to try all routes to get as much food as possible to the most desperately hungry people in Gaza.

“Because there are few ways, let us take all of them,” Frankcom told The Independent. “Let’s take every opportunity we can to get meals into Gaza. Let’s be taking all the ways.”

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