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Chef Jose Andres says Israel targeted his aid workers 'systematically, car by car'

Published 04/03/2024, 01:22 PM
Updated 04/03/2024, 07:28 PM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. first lady Jill Biden and Spanish chef Jose Andres greet volunteers of the World Central Kitchen association, during her visit with Spain's Queen Letizia to a reception centre for Ukrainian refugees in Pozuelo de Alarcon, on the sidelines

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Celebrity chef Jose Andres told Reuters in an emotional interview on Wednesday that an Israeli attack that killed seven of his food aid workers in Gaza had targeted them "systematically, car by car."

Speaking via video, Andres said the World Central Kitchen (WCK) charity group he founded had clear communication with the Israeli military, which he said knew his aid workers' movements.

"This was not just a bad luck situation where ‘oops’ we dropped the bomb in the wrong place," Andres said.

"This was over a 1.5, 1.8 kilometers, with a very defined humanitarian convoy that had signs in the top, in the roof, a very colorful logo that we are obviously very proud of," he said. It's “very clear who we are and what we do.”

Andres said the IDF was aware of the convoy's whereabouts. He called for investigations of the incident by the U.S. government and by the home country of every aid worker that was killed.

"They were targeting us in a deconflicting zone, in an area controlled by IDF. They knowing that it was our teams moving on that road ... with three cars," he said.

The aid workers were killed when their convoy was hit shortly after they oversaw the unloading of 100 tons of food brought to Gaza by sea. Israel's military expressed "severe sorrow" over the incident and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it unintentional.

Andres said there may have been more than three strikes against the aid convoy. He rejected Israeli and U.S. assertions that the strike was not deliberate.

"Initially, I would say categorically no," Andres said when asked if he accepted that explanation.

"Even if we were not in coordination with the (Israel Defense Forces), no democratic country and no military can be targeting civilians and humanitarians," he added.

Asked for comment on Andres' remarks, an Israeli military spokesperson referred to prior comments by chief of staff Herzi Halevi in which he called the incident a grave mistake and said the attack "was not carried out with the intention of harming WCK aid workers."

Andres said he was personally supposed to be there with his team but was not able to go back to Gaza at the time.

The U.S. needs to do more to stop the war, he said. Andres spoke to President Joe Biden on Tuesday.

"The U.S. must do more to tell Prime Minister Netanyahu this war needs to end now," he said. He questioned Biden administration moves to supply aid in Gaza while also arming Israel.

"It's very complicated to understand ... America is going to be sending its Navy and its military to do humanitarian work, but at the same time weapons provided by America ... are killing civilians," he said.

The chef also wondered aloud how Netanyahu could wage a war to save Israeli hostages "when they may be dying under the rubble of the same weapons" Israel used against Palestinians.

CAR BY CAR

Andres said his organization was still studying the safety situation in Gaza as it contemplates starting aid deliveries again.

Australian, British and American citizens were among seven World Central Kitchen aid workers killed as it was leaving its Deir al-Balah warehouse.

At least 196 humanitarian workers have been killed in Gaza since October, according to the United Nations, and Hamas has previously accused Israel of targeting aid distribution sites.

Andres described how he learned of the attack, saying first his group lost contact with its team in Gaza, and did not realize what happened until seeing images of the bodies.

He said that after the IDF attacked the first armored car, the team was able to escape and move to a second car which was then attacked, forcing them to move to the third car.

The aid workers tried to communicate to make clear who they were, he said, adding IDF knew they were in the area which it controlled.

Then the third car was hit, "and we saw the consequences of that."

World Central Kitchen began last month moving food aid to starving people in northern Gaza via a maritime corridor from Cyprus, in collaboration with Spanish charity Open Arms. The charity coordinated closely with Israel's military, Arab nations and others, Andres said earlier.

Biden said he was "outraged and heartbroken" by the deaths. The U.S. sided with Netanyahu's assertion that the strikes were not deliberate.

Founded by Andres, 54, in 2010 after a Haiti earthquake, World Central Kitchen has tried to sidestep red tape around the world to rush aid to disaster-hit areas, including Ukraine after the Russian invasion. The conflict began after Hamas attacks on southern Israel on Oct. 7 that killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli figures.

Since then, much of the densely populated territory has been laid waste and most of its 2.3 million population displaced. More than 32,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to the health ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A Palestinian man rides a bicycle past a damaged vehicle where employees from the World Central Kitchen (WCK), including foreigners, were killed in an Israeli airstrike, according to the NGO as the Israeli military said it was conducting a thorough review at the highest levels to understand the circumstances of this

Andres condemned the war as a whole.

"This it seems is a war against humanity itself. And you can never win that war. Because humanity eventually will always prevail," he said.

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