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Independent probe into IDF attack urged amid calls to stop arms sales to Israel

An independent investigation into the deadly attack by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) is being demanded by the World Central Kitchen (WCK) charity, as former Supreme Court justices pressed the UK Government to stop arms sales to Israel.

Seven of the charity’s aid workers were killed in Gaza on Monday evening, with Britons John Chapman, 57, James “Jim” Henderson, 33, and James Kirby, 47, among those who died in the attack.

WCK founder Jose Andres claimed the Israeli military knew his aid workers’ movements and targeted them “systematically, car by car”.

Israel’s minister of economy, Nir Barkat, described Mr Andres’ comments as “nonsense”, adding that “unfortunately, in wars friendly fire happens”.

Meanwhile, there is growing pressure on the UK Government to suspend arms sales to Israel, with a letter that has been signed by more than 600 lawyers, including former Supreme Court justices.

Speaking to Reuters, Mr Andres said: “This was not just a bad luck situation where ‘oops’ we dropped the bomb in the wrong place.

“This was over 1.5km, 1.8km, with a very defined humanitarian convoy that had signs in the top, in the roof, a very colourful logo that we are obviously very proud of.

“It’s very clear who we are and what we do.”

Israel-Hamas conflict
From left, Britons John Chapman, James ‘Jim’ Henderson and James Kirby, three of the seven World Central Kitchen aid workers who were killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza (World Central Kitchen/PA)

WCK chief executive Erin Gore and executive co-chairman/treasurer Javier Garcia said an independent investigation is “the only way to determine the truth”.

In a joint statement they asked the governments of Australia, Canada, the United States of America, Poland, and the United Kingdom to join them in a third-party investigation into the attacks and “whether they were carried out intentionally or otherwise violated international law”.

It added: “On April 1, 2024, the Israeli Defence Forces killed seven humanitarian aid workers employed by World Central Kitchen (WCK), an internationally recognised humanitarian organization.

“The aid workers killed were nationals of Australia, Canada/US (dual citizen), Gaza, Poland, and the United Kingdom. Israel has admitted to the killings but called it ‘a tragic event in which our forces unintentionally harmed non-combatants and something that ‘happens in war’.

“This was a military attack that involved multiple strikes and targeted three WCK vehicles. All three vehicles were carrying civilians; they were marked as WCK vehicles; and their movements were in full compliance with Israeli authorities, who were aware of their itinerary, route, and humanitarian mission.”

The charity said it has asked the Israeli government to immediately keep all documents, communications, video and audio recordings relevant to the strikes.

“An independent investigation is the only way to determine the truth of what happened, ensure transparency and accountability for those responsible, and prevent future attacks on humanitarian aid workers,” the statement added.

On Thursday, the brother of Royal Marines veteran Jim Henderson told the Times newspaper it is “hard to comprehend” the Government’s inaction over the killings.

He said: “Accountability is the only hope of justice I have… I don’t believe our Government will hold the correct people to account, but I guarantee that our Government will sell weapons to Israel, which may in turn be used to kill our fellow citizens. It’s hard to comprehend that.”

He added: “I feel this is inexcusable behaviour, to kill my brother and his colleagues on a humanitarian mission. Our thoughts are with the suffering people who have been deprived of basic humanitarian needs. It’s unacceptable for our world leaders to ignore this gross miscarriage of justice.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described the attack as unintended and “tragic” and pledged an independent inquiry.

In a letter signed by 600 lawyers, the Government was warned it risks breaching international law by continuing to allow the export of weapons to Israel.

Signatories of the letter published on Wednesday night, including former Supreme Court president Lady Hale, said the worsening situation in Gaza and the International Court of Justice’s conclusion that there is a “plausible risk of genocide” oblige the UK to suspend arms sales to the country.

Former circuit judge Nic Madge told the PA news agency that “the law must be obeyed”, adding: “The provision of military assistance and material to Israel may render the UK complicit in genocide as well as serious breaches of international law.

“To take just two examples, if the UK were to supply the calibre of bullets which have been responsible for the deaths of children or the types of shells which have hit aid convoys, the UK would be likely to be in breach of international law.”

Human rights lawyer Michael Mansfield KC said that “effectively, we’ve reached genocide already”.

He told Times Radio: “You can see that it’s very obvious every time a picture comes back there’s nothing left. And you’ve got people starving to death. And I say, and I think some of the others on the letter would say, effectively, we’ve reached genocide already.”

Israel-Hamas war in Gaza Strip
(PA Graphics)

The letter calls on the UK Government to “exert its influence to secure a ceasefire in Gaza and the West Bank” and secure the release of hostages.

It adds: “We also call on the Government immediately to halt the export of weapons from the UK to Israel, given the clear risk that they might be used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law in breach of the UK’s domestic Strategic Export Licensing Criteria, 86 including its obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty.

“We recall that UK nationals responsible for aiding and abetting international crimes, as well as those committing them as primary perpetrators, are liable for prosecution in the UK pursuant to the Geneva Conventions Act 1957 and the International Criminal Court Act 2001.”

Elsewhere, Conservative former minister Sir Alan Duncan is being investigated by the Conservative party after he criticised a number of ministers and former ministers for their stance on Israel and Gaza. He told LBC that it is time to “flush out those extremists in our own politics, some of whom are at the very top of Government”.

The King has asked to be kept personally updated on the deaths of the three British workers delivering aid in Gaza. An email sent on Charles’s behalf requested an update by 4pm on Tuesday, as insiders told the Daily Mail he has taken the cause “to heart”.

Former head of MI6 Sir Alex Younger said Israel’s approach to the war in Gaza is bordering on reckless.

He told the BBC’s Today podcast: “My view is that what happened is essentially systematic of an approach to targeting that has, on occasion, bordered on the reckless.

“Fundamentally undermines therefore what must be Israel’s political objectives, which is to sustain some moral high ground and some moral purpose.”

He added: “It’s hard not to conclude that insufficient care is being paid to these collateral risks of these operations, one way or another.”