Israel admits ‘grave mistake’ after Gaza bombing kills seven aid workers– but charity demands full inquiry

Two officers sacked after identifying bag-carrying charity worker as a gunman in Monday’s drone strike

Joe Middleton,Bel Trew,Archie Mitchell
Friday 05 April 2024 20:34 BST
British national among seven aid workers killed in Gaza airstrike

Israel has admitted making a “grave mistake” after its forces killed seven aid workers in a drone strike, insisting officials believed a Hamas gunman was among the unarmed convoy.

In an unusually swift four-day investigation, it concluded that a charity worker carrying a bag was mistaken for a man holding a gun. Blaming poor communications and attention to detail, it promptly sacked two of its officers.

But Israel’s efforts to draw a line under the attack, which prompted global outrage and renewed calls for the UK and the US to cease all arms trade, fell short as politicians and humanitarian organisations demanded a full independent inquiry.

The World Central Kitchen charity, which employed the dead aid workers, and foreign secretary David Cameron both called for a more comprehensive probe. The charity’s founder said that “the IDF cannot credibly investigate its own failure in Gaza”.

The deaths triggered a wave of international condemnation and shone a fresh spotlight on the dire conditions that Gaza’s besieged population is suffering from in the embattled enclave.

The results of the Israeli investigation came as:

  • Israel now faces UN charges that its attack on aid workers may amount to war crimes
  • US president Joe Biden told Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu he must minimise harm and suffering in Gaza if he wants to keep US support
  • Israel agreed to open three aid corridors to Gaza but did not say when supplies would be allowed to flow through
  • US secretary of state Anthony Blinken said the US would review the findings of the investigation
  • An Israeli former tank commander claimed it was “policy” to allow high levels of collateral damage
  • Rishi Sunak’s cabinet remained split over suspending arms sales to Israel as pressure mounted on the PM to act
People inspect the site where World Central Kitchen workers were killed in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip
People inspect the site where World Central Kitchen workers were killed in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip (AP)

The seven aid workers, who included three Britons, were returning from coordinating an aid shipment in central Gaza on Monday night when their three-car convoy was struck.

Yoav Har-Even, a retired military officer who led the Israeli inquiry, said there were two main areas of wrongdoing. Firstly, Israeli officers failed to read messages telling them that cars, and not aid trucks, would be taking the workers away from the warehouse.

As a result, the cars that were targeted were incorrectly identified as transporting members of Hamas.

The army also blamed a major who identified the strike target and a colonel who approved the strike, for acting with insufficient information. It said the order was given after one of the passengers inside a car was wrongly identified as a gunman.

“The investigation’s findings indicate that the incident should not have occurred,” said retired Major General Har-Even. “Those who approved the strike were convinced that they were targeting armed Hamas operatives and not WCK employees.

“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 army said it initially hit one car. As people scrambled away into a second car, it hit that vehicle as well and did the same thing when survivors moved into a third car.

Army officials claimed that drone operators could not see that the cars were marked with the words World Central Kitchen because it was night. It could not say how communications about the convoy’s plans had broken down.

As a consequence, it dismissed a brigade chief of staff with the rank of colonel and a brigade fire support officer with the rank of major, and issued formal reprimands to senior officers, including the general at the head of the Southern Command.

But Jose Andres, founder of WCK, was not impressed by the Israeli response: “It’s not enough to simply try to avoid further humanitarian deaths, which have now approached close to 200. All civilians need to be protected, and all innocent people in Gaza need to be fed and safe. And all hostages must be released.”

Throughout the six-month conflict, human rights groups have repeatedly accused Israeli forces of firing recklessly at civilians throughout the conflict — a charge Israel denies.

Lord Cameron also urged for a “wholly independent review” to follow the initial inquiry: “We are carefully reviewing the initial findings of Israel’s investigations into the killing of WCK aid workers and welcome the suspension of two officers as a first step.

“These findings must be published in full and followed up with a wholly independent review to ensure the utmost transparency and accountability.”

United Nations staff members inspect the wreckage of a car used by WCK
United Nations staff members inspect the wreckage of a car used by WCK (AFP/Getty)

In the UK, Rishi Sunak’s cabinet remains split over whether to suspend arms sales to Israel.

Former British Army officer General Sir Richard Barrons said the law was “clear” about Britain supplying weapons to countries in breach of international law.

He pointed to calls from more than 600 lawyers, including former Supreme Court president Lady Hale, warning that the government risks breaching international law by continuing to export weapons to Israel, adding that “when the finest legal minds in the country say there’s an issue here, there’s an issue”.

But Sir Richard said the arms trade was part of a much wider issue: “We are watching a military operation that has been pursued for six months, directed at a military objective, which is unachievable, with no clear sign of what a beneficial strategic outcome for anybody is.

“Arms sales is a very small part of the much more important discussion about how this ends well.”

Admiral Lord West, former head of the Royal Navy, called for Israel to allow an “independent” inquiry into how the seven aid workers were killed, to determine whether there is a “flaw” in how Israel is pursuing targets.

He told The Independent: “If they’ve got the wrong formula in place, then I think we absolutely have to put pressure on them. The way of doing that is to probably stop arms sales, not that they use many of our arms, but what we can do is use that to leverage the Americans and others, and then that does have an impact on them.”

James ‘Jim’ Henderson, one of seven aid workers who died in the Israeli airstrike
James ‘Jim’ Henderson, one of seven aid workers who died in the Israeli airstrike (PA Wire)

Ori Givati, a former tank commander, who is advocacy director of Breaking the Silence, a group founded by Israeli veterans to document army abuses, said that the actions of the Israeli military were not “against standard operating procedure” as claimed by their statement.

He told The Independent the killing of innocents was an “integral part of the way Israel fights in Gaza” and that it was “policy” to allow high levels of collateral damage.

“The standard operating procedures had led so far to [the] killing of 12,000 children and thousands more innocent people with almost no investigations.

This combination of photos provided by World Central Kitchen/, shows seven aid workers who were killed in Gaza on 1 April
This combination of photos provided by World Central Kitchen/, shows seven aid workers who were killed in Gaza on 1 April (AP)

“Israel opened this investigation merely because this time, the casualties were not Palestinians. Killings of innocents is not new to this war and is an integral part of the way Israel fights in Gaza for decades.”

Mr Givati told The Independent that he didn’t think Israel deliberately wanted to target WCK aid convoy itself, but Israeli policy “itself allows just high level of collateral damage … that allows this kind of killing’.”

The UN Human Rights Office said attacks against aid workers in Gaza “may amount to a war crime”.

The WCK earlier this week identified all those who died after the IDF struck the convoy. They are Saifeddin Issam Ayab Abutaha, 25, of Palestine; Lalzawmi Frankcom, 43, of Australia; Damian Soból, 35, of Poland; Jacob Flickinger, 33, a US-Canadian dual citizen; along with UK citizens John Chapman, 57, James Henderson, 33, and James Kirby, 47.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in