Biden 'outraged' by aid workers killed, but no indication Israeli strike deliberate

Israel said it "unintentionally" hit the aid workers in "tragic incident."

April 2, 2024, 7:55 PM

President Joe Biden said Tuesday he is "outraged" that a strike by Israel Defense Forces killed seven aid workers with the World Central Kitchen who were on the ground in Gaza to provide relief to civilians caught in the conflict.

Biden called his "friend" Chef José Andrés, the founder of World Central Kitchen, to express his condolences, he said in a statement issued Tuesday evening.

"I am outraged and heartbroken by the deaths of seven humanitarian workers from World Central Kitchen, including one American, in Gaza yesterday. They were providing food to hungry civilians in the middle of a war. They were brave and selfless. Their deaths are a tragedy," his statement said.

"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," he said.

"Even more tragically, this is not a stand-alone incident. This conflict has been one of the worst in recent memory in terms of how many aid workers have been killed," he continued. "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. Israel has also not done enough to protect civilians."

Earlier, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, who joined Tuesday's White House briefing, offered a similar condemnation of the IDF attack.

US National Security Council (NSC) spokesman John Kirby takes questions during the daily press briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on April 2, 2024.
Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the strike a "tragic incident" and unintentional. The food-relief charity has paused its work in Gaza after the attack.

International organizations have warned of a worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza, with a report in mid-March noting that famine is "imminent" in northern Gaza, as the entire population of the strip experiences high levels of food insecurity amid the ongoing war.

Kirby said a preliminary IDF investigation is expected to be completed Tuesday but they also expect a "broader" probe of the strike to be conducted.

"We hope that those findings will be made public, and that there is appropriate accountability held," he said, though he noted there is no evidence IDF deliberately targeted World Central Kitchen workers.

More than 200 aid workers have been killed in the Israel-Hamas conflict, Kirby said, who called the war one of the "worst" for such workers in recent history.

World Central Kitchen said in a statement that their team was traveling in clearly marked armored cars in a deconflicted zone when the vehicles were hit, despite the workers having coordinated movements with the IDF.

People inspect the site where World Central Kitchen workers were killed in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip, Apr. 2, 2024.
Abdel Kareem Hana/AP
Palestinians are standing next to a vehicle in Deir Al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip, on April 2, 2024, where employees from the World Central Kitchen (WCK), including foreigners, were killed in an Israeli airstrike, according to the NGO.
Majdi Fathi/Associated Press

One of the aid workers killed was a dual U.S.-Canadian citizen, the World Central Kitchen said. The other victims were from Australia, Poland, the United Kingdom and Palestine.

"This incident is emblematic of a larger problem and evidence of why distribution of aid in Gaza has been so challenging," Kirby said of the World Central Kitchen strike. "But beyond the strike, what is clear is that the IDF must do much more … to improve deconfliction processes so that civilians and humanitarian aid workers are protected."

But Kirby again rejected the idea of conditioning military aid on Israel, as some U.S. lawmakers have called for as the humanitarian crisis inside Gaza continues to grow.

"They're still under the viable threat of Hamas," Kirby said. "We're still gonna make sure that they can defend themselves and that the 7th of October doesn't happen again. That doesn't mean that it's a free pass, that we look the other way when something like this happens, or that we aren't and haven't since the beginning of the conflict urge the Israelis to be more precise, to be more careful."