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Biden escalates criticism of Israel after aid worker deaths

Josh Wingrove, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Israel hadn’t done enough to protect civilians after the death of seven aid workers, in some of his sternest criticism yet of the country’s conduct in the months since it launched a military campaign against Hamas in Gaza.

“This conflict has been one of the worst in recent memory in terms of how many aid workers have been killed,” Biden said in a statement released Tuesday night. “This is a major reason why distributing humanitarian aid in Gaza has been so difficult – because Israel has not done enough to protect aid workers trying to deliver desperately needed help to civilians.”

“Incidents like yesterday’s simply should not happen,” Biden said.

Biden has called out Israel before but the sharply worded statement was among the most critical since Israel launched its campaign in response to Hamas’s assault on Oct 7. It also highlighted growing U.S. frustration with Israel’s prosecution of its war and the mounting civilian death toll.

“Incidents like yesterday’s simply should not happen. Israel has also not done enough to protect civilians,” the president added.

Biden’s statement was among several issued by Western leaders who have condemned the air strike that killed seven workers from World Central Kitchen, a prominent disaster relief group founded by the chef José Andrés. His remarks came as the administration raises the pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak spoke with Netanyahu Tuesday and said he was “appalled” by the aid workers’ deaths. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he expressed “anger and concern” in a telephone call with Netanyahu. “This is completely unacceptable,” Albanese told reporters. The seven dead include three British citizens, one dual-citizen American and one Australian.

Biden said he was “outraged and heartbroken by the deaths” and called for a swift investigations. “Israel has pledged to conduct a thorough investigation into why the aid workers’ vehicles were hit by airstrikes. That investigation must be swift, it must bring accountability, and its findings must be made public.”

 

Biden said he would continue to press Israel to facilitate humanitarian aid, and that he is pushing “hard for an immediate cease-fire as part of a hostage deal.”

Biden said he had spoken with Andrés to express condolences.

Netanyahu and other Israeli officials expressed regret over the deaths. “Unfortunately, in the past day there was a tragic event in which our forces unintentionally harmed non-combatants in the Gaza Strip,” the prime minister said on the social media platform X. “This happens in war. We are conducting a thorough inquiry and are in contact with the governments. We will do everything to prevent a recurrence.”

Israeli military chief of staff Herzi Halevi, speaking in a video statement uploaded to X, said Israel will continue to protect aid workers.

“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,” he said. “Israel is at war with Hamas, not with the people of Gaza.”

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