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Humanitarians killed in Gaza: Israeli army claims to have targeted “a Hamas gunman”

Photo: Agence France-Presse Seven aid workers from the NGO World Cental Kitchen were killed by the Israeli army on Monday evening in Gaza.

Fiachra Gibbons – Agence France-Presse in Tel-Aviv

April 5, 2024

  • Middle East

The Israeli military said Friday it was targeting a “Hamas gunman” firing from the roof of one of the aid trucks when it killed seven aid workers in Gaza, admitting it made a series of “mistakes serious.”

These aid workers were killed Monday evening by three Israeli strikes launched in the space of four minutes on their convoy in the Gaza Strip, where Israel is at war against the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.

The team operating the drones behind the strikes made an “operational error in situational awareness” after spotting a “Hamas gunman” firing from the roof of a aid trucks that collaborators of the American NGO World Central Kitchen (WCK) were escorting, according to an internal army investigation.

The army, which refers to “violations of normal operational procedures”, also admitted that WCK had communicated its route plan, but the soldiers in charge of the strikes did not have it in hand.

At a press briefing at army headquarters in Tel Aviv, senior Israeli officers presented journalists with drone video footage showing the “Hamas agent” joining the WCK convoy traveling through Gaza Monday night shortly after 10 p.m. local time.

Large WCK logos adorned the roofs of the vehicles, but the drone's camera could not see them in the darkness, said retired Gen. Yoav Har-Even, who is leading the investigation. “That was a key factor in the chain of events,” he said.

Two officers involved in this blunder, a reserve colonel and an active commander, will be dismissed, according to General Har-Even's report.

Here is how the drama unfolded, according to the army's version presented Friday during a particularly confusing press briefing during which many of the journalists' questions remained unanswered.< /p>

10 p.m.: aid trucks leave the pier

A ship carrying 300 tonnes of WCK food aid from Cyprus is unloaded at a dock near Deir al-Balah on Gaza's central coast. The area is guarded by the Israeli army.

The operation was to be carried out over four nights, according to the army, and the aid gradually transported to a warehouse located inland. Everything was scheduled in the dark, to avoid stampedes of hungry people or deadly tragedies like have been happening for several weeks in the Gaza Strip around food aid convoys.

This was the second boat that WCK chartered from Cyprus, after a first in mid-March. The NGO had given the army full details of its vehicles and their route, as required by the usual security procedures of humanitarian organizations.

10:28 p.m.: NGO cars and an “armed man” join the convoy

According to the army, the convoy of eight trucks drove south along the coastal road for about 20 minutes, before being joined at 10:28 p.m. by four WCK vehicles near the NGO's reception center. The four cars had the WCK logo on their roof, but “the (drone) operator could not see them in the dark,” the Israeli army insists.

It was there that an armed man climbed onto the roof of one of the trucks and “started shooting,” raising initial suspicions that the “convoy had been hijacked by the Hamas,” the army says. The convoy continues on its way and stops at “hangar A”, where “the armed man got off”, according to the army.

The army showed journalists drone video clips, in which it appears that a person is firing an automatic rifle from the top of a truck. At that point, the commander tries to contact the NGO, said Yoav Har-Even, the retired general who is leading the internal investigation into the facts.

But WCK's head of security in Europe cannot contact the team on the ground, the army adds.

10:47 p.m.: “Hamas agents”

When the aid trucks and cars are at “Hangar A,” the Air Force drone spots “15 to 20 people outside the warehouse. At least two to four of them were identified as carrying weapons,” according to General Har-Even.

Between 10:47 p.m. and 10:55 p.m., one of the Israeli officers, who viewed the images, “concluded that they were Hamas agents.” However, as a general protocol, Israeli army soldiers “are ordered not to hit armed individuals so as not to endanger humanitarian convoys,” the general adds.

10:55 p.m.: the vehicles leave

Once the trucks are in the warehouse, the aid workers’ vehicles leave. One of them is heading north, towards “hangar B”. “Two to four shooters were identified as having exited and entered Hangar” B, General Har-Even said.

The drone camera showed at least three of the men with what appeared to be weapons, added the officer, who said army rules prohibit striking suspects so close to a humanitarian aid warehouse.

11:09 p.m.: first of three strikes

Meanwhile, the other three WCK cars headed back towards the coast. According to General Har-Even, the “cell” controlling the drone was convinced they had spotted an armed man getting into one of them.

“We now know it was a mistake. It was not a weapon. Maybe it was a bag,” he said.

As the seven humanitarians and their vehicles reached the coast and turned south, “the mindset (of the drone operators) was that the humanitarian mission was over and they were tracking down minus one Hamas shooter,” the general said.

At 11:09 p.m., the drone “hit a car and identified people getting out and entering a second car,” the officer said. “They decided to shoot, which was against normal operating procedures,” the general adds: “They then shot at the third car…”

The final strike on the survivors of the first two missiles occurs at 11:13 p.m.

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Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116