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Biden has spoken to WCK founder Jose Andres after seven staff were killed in Israeli strikes

President Joe Biden has called World Central Kitchen founder Jose Andres to express his condolences after Israel Defence Force drone strikes killed seven of the organisation’s aid workers in Gaza on Monday.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters at a White House press briefing on Tuesday that Mr Biden telephoned the celebrity chef turned aid group founder to “express that he’s heartbroken by his by this news of the airstrike ... and to express and share his deepest condolences”.

“The President conveyed that he is grieving with the entire World Central Kitchen family,” said Ms Jean-Pierre, who added that Mr Biden “felt it was important to recognise the tremendous contribution” Mr Andres’ group has made in Gaza and around the world.

John Kirby, the White House National Security Communications Adviser, said the US was “outraged” to learn of the Israeli attack on the marked aid convoy and noted that a preliminary Israeli investigation into the strike has been completed. He added that the US expects a “broader investigation to be conducted” in “a swift and comprehensive manner,” and said it’s “clear” that the IDF “must do much more to improve deconfliction processes so that civilians and humanitarian aid workers are protected”.

“The US will continue to press Israel to do more as well to ensure the safety of humanitarian workers. And we’ll continue to do all we can deliver this assistance to Palestinian civilians in Gaza,” he said.

The news of Mr Biden’s call with the World Central Kitchen founder comes just hours after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for Israel to conduct an “impartial” investigation into how the Israel Defense Forces came to conduct drone strikes on a marked aid convoy belonging to the World Central Kitchen in Gaza, killing seven of the nonprofit’s employees.

Speaking in Paris on Tuesday, Mr Blinken called the slain aid workers “heroes” who represent “the best of what humanity has to offer,” and noted that a “record number” of humanitarian workers have been killed in Israel’s six-month-old war against Hamas.

“They run into the fire, not away from it ... they have to be protected,” he said. “We shouldn't have a situation where people who are simply trying to help their fellow human beings are themselves at grave risk.”

The top US diplomat added that US officials have “spoken directly” with Israeli government officials about the strikes and have “urged” Israel to run “a swift, a thorough, and impartial investigation to understand exactly what happened”.

“As we have throughout this conflict, we've impressed upon the Israelis the absolute imperative of doing more to protect innocent civilian lives ... as well as to get more humanitarian assistance to more people more effectively,” he said.

Mr Blinken’s statement comes less than a day after the Israeli strike on the workers, who included one dual American-Canadian citizen, three UK citizens, one Australian citizen and a Polish citizen, as well as a Palestinian driver.

 (AP)
(AP)

They were traveling along Gaza’s coastal road in Deir Balah, central Gaza, on Monday night when their three-vehicle convoy came under fire from Israeli drones. The aid workers reportedly travelled in two armoured cars branded with the WCK logo and a soft-skin vehicle.

The convoy was hit as it was leaving the Deir al-Balah warehouse, where the team had unloaded more than 100 tonnes of humanitarian food aid taken to Gaza on the maritime route, WCK said.

After the drone strike, the charity, which was founded by celebrity chef Jose Andres, announced that it would be halting operations in Gaza for the time being.

“World Central Kitchen is pausing our operations immediately in the region. We will be making decisions about the future of our work soon,” a statement from the charity read.

The US Secretary of State’s call for a probe into the strike follows that of David Cameron, the British Foreign Secretary, who has said Israel must “immediately investigate” and has demanded that such a probe produce “a full, transparent explanation of what happened”.

In addition, National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said the Biden administration is “heartbroken and deeply troubled by the strike” and urging Israel to “swiftly investigate what happened”.

An Israel Defense Forces spokesperson said the incident “will be investigated in the Fact Finding and Assessment Mechanism” which they described as “an independent, professional, and expert body”.

“As a professional military committed to international law, we are committed to examining our operations thoroughly and transparently,” the spokesperson said.

While Israeli officials such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have described the attack as a mistake made in the fog of war, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has reported that the strike on the convoy was actually a trio individual missile strikes fired from unmanned aircraft.

According to the report, the aid workers were able to remove wounded from the vehicle that was hit in the initial missile strike and transfer to the two surviving vehicles in the three-part convoy, but as they attempted to escape, subsequent strikes on the second and third vehicles killed the surviving members of the convoy.

Mr Kirby the White House National Security Communications Adviser, declined to respond to questions from The Independent on why the White House would accept the Israeli explanation of a mistaken strike if there were second and third missile hits on the convoy which appeared targeted to kill survivors.

“The Prime Minister and the IDF have noted that it was their error, if you don’t like the word mistake,” he 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”.