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Airstrikes on aid workers don’t ‘just happen’: Trudeau rebukes Netanyahu

Canadian Jacob Flickinger among 7 killed while delivering food aid for World Central Kitchen
World Central Kitchen is asking Canada to back its demand for an independent investigation into the Israeli airstrikes that killed seven aid workers earlier this week. Canadian army veteran Jacob Flickinger, shown in a handout photo, was among those killed along with a Palestinian driver and citizens of Australia, Poland, and the United Kingdom. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - World Central Kitchen

Attacks on aid workers are not just something that happens in war, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday, slamming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s defence of a deadly airstrike on aid workers in central Gaza on April 1.

Canadian Army veteran Jacob Flickinger, 33, was among those killed while delivering food aid for World Central Kitchen.

Netanyahu said Wednesday the blasts were a tragic accident that will be investigated — but also a consequence of armed conflict.

“This happens in war,” Netanyahu said.

At a news conference in Winnipeg Thursday, Trudeau said he had to “directly take issue” with those comments.

“No, it doesn’t just happen,” Trudeau said. “And it shouldn’t just happen when you have aid workers for an extraordinary organization like World Central Kitchen risking their lives every day in an incredibly dangerous place to deliver food to people who are experiencing a horrific humanitarian catastrophe.”

World Central Kitchen is demanding a full independent investigation into the attack that killed its workers, including Flickinger, a Palestinian driver, and citizens of Australia, Poland and the United Kingdom.

They were in a clearly marked aid convoy after delivering 100 tonnes of food to a warehouse in central Gaza when they were hit.

Trudeau said a “fully open, transparent, independent and rapid investigation” is absolutely required.

But he said a ceasefire and a massive influx of humanitarian support is also critical.

“The reality is we need much more humanitarian support to flow into Gaza, much more protection of civilians, of innocents and of aid workers,” he said.

“That’s why we need a humanitarian ceasefire. We need for Hamas to lay down its arms. We need for the hostages to be released, and we need a ceasefire to allow this humanitarian catastrophe to end as quickly as possible.”

International reaction to the deadly airstrikes has been swift and biting at a time when Israel was already facing sharp criticism for the humanitarian toll of its war in Gaza.

U.S. President Joe Biden is scheduled to speak by phone with Netanyahu Thursday. The U.S. has been one of Israel’s biggest defenders and earlier this week approved the transfer of additional bombs to the Israeli military.

But Biden has been getting increasingly frustrated with Israel over the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, including the limited aid Israel is allowing in and the growing death toll of civilians. On Tuesday he said he was “outraged and heartbroken” over the latest aid worker deaths.

“This conflict has been one of the worst in recent memory in terms of how many aid workers have been killed,” he said.

World Central Kitchen founder José Andrés has a friendship with the Bidens and cooked meals at the White House when president Barack Obama was in office.

Andrés rejects Israel’s assertion that it was an accidental attack, saying the charity had clear communication with Israel about when and where the aid workers would be moving.

He said Israel’s right to defend itself does not extend to killing innocent people.

Jonathan Duguay, a close friend of Flickinger who was working in Cyprus for World Central Kitchen at the time of the attack, told The Canadian Press in an interview that Flickinger wasn’t afraid because the aid deliveries were co-ordinated with Israel’s assistance.

“We had an agreement with the IDF,” said Duguay. “There was a special route. They knew where we were.”

Herzi Halevi, the Israel Defence Force chief of staff, said Wednesday he had received a preliminary report on the strike and insisted the aid workers were not intentionally targeted.

“I want to be very clear — the strike was not carried out with the intention of harming WCK aid workers. It was a mistake that followed a misidentification — at night during a war in very complex conditions. It shouldn’t have happened.”

Halevi said World Central Kitchen does important work in difficult conditions and said Israel is “taking immediate actions to ensure that more is done to protect humanitarian aid workers.”

“This incident was a grave mistake,” Halevi told reporters in a televised address in Israel.

“Israel is at war with Hamas, not with the people of Gaza. We are sorry for the unintentional harm to the members of WCK. We share in the grief of their families, as well as the entire World Central Kitchen organization, from the bottom of our hearts.”

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