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18 Apr 2024 0:32
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  •   Home > News > International

    'Misidentification' was behind Gaza air strike that killed Australian aid worker Zomi Frankcom, Israeli military says

    The Israeli air strike that killed seven aid workers in Gaza, including Australian Lalzawmi "Zomi" Frankcom, was a "mistake that followed a misidentification," the Israeli military says.

    The Israeli air strike that killed seven aid workers in Gaza, including Australian Lalzawmi "Zomi" Frankcom, was a "mistake that followed a misidentification," the Israeli military says.

    Ms Frankcom, as well as Palestinians and citizens of the UK, Poland and a dual US-Canadian national, were working for the charity World Central Kitchen (WCK) when an Israeli air strike hit their convoy on Monday night, local time.

    The Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Lieutenant-General Herzi Halevi, said in a video statement on Wednesday that he had been presented with preliminary findings from an inquiry into the incident.

    "The strike was not carried out with the intention of harming WCK aid workers," he said.

    "It was a mistake that followed a misidentification — at night, during a war, in very complex conditions. It shouldn't have happened."

    Lieutenant-General Halevi said Israel's military planned to improve the way they coordinate aid distribution in Gaza.

    "We will continue taking immediate actions to ensure that more is done to protect humanitarian aid workers. This incident was a grave mistake," he said.

    "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 organisation, from the bottom of our hearts."

    Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says he told Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in "very clear terms" that Australians were outraged by the tragedy.

    He said that during their phone call, Mr Netanyahu accepted responsibility for the strike on behalf of the IDF. 

    Mr Netanyahu previously put out a video message on Tuesday, saying the strike had been erroneous and promising thorough investigations.

    The prime minister, who had been in hospital after having surgery on a hernia, described the blast as "tragic", but also said "it happens in war".

    "We'll investigate it. We're in contact with the governments, and we will do everything so that it doesn't happen again," he said.

    Medics say it took 'several hours' to recover the bodies

    In an update published on WhatsApp, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) — the peak body for emergency health care in Gaza — said recovering the aid workers' bodies had been a "challenging operation spanning several hours".

    "Two of the bodies were initially missing, but were later located and retrieved by the PRCS teams," the update read.

    The PRCS said the seven bodies had been taken to a hospital, and would eventually be transported into Egypt via the Rafah border crossing.

    Video circulating online showed Ms Frankcom's body, and her passport, lying on the floor of an indoor space, with other corpses.

    The charity said the team was travelling in a three-car convoy that included two armoured vehicles, and its movements had been coordinated with the IDF.

    Journalist Abdelhakim Abu Riash was at the morgue when the bodies arrived late on Monday night.

    "Most of the people at the hospital were very shocked that the foreigners working with the World Central Kitchen were the casualties," he told the ABC.

    "They did their best to ensure food for this part of Gaza. They are foreigners and they would liaise with the IDF all the time."

    He saw the site of the strikes and described the vehicles as "seriously burnt".

    "Their jeeps are easily identifiable and their logo very clear," he said.

    "There was no ambiguity that these people worked for the organisation."

    The IDF declined an ABC invitation to be interviewed.

    It released a video message from spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, who said Israel's military had been working closely with WCK.

    He described the IDF as "a professional military committed to international law", and said there would be a transparent investigation.

    "We have been reviewing the incident in the highest levels to understand the circumstances of what happened and how it happened," he said.

    "We will be opening a probe to examine this serious incident further. This will help us reduce the risk of such an event from occurring again."

    The US, which continues to provide weapons to Israel, has condemned the strikes.

    "We were outraged," White House national security spokesman John Kirby said.

    He said the US expects Israel to conduct a thorough investigation, with findings made public and "appropriate accountability held". It will also keep pressing Israel to do more to protect aid workers.

    "It's devastating to see these images and to hear these early reports about the steps that [the aid workers] tried to take to protect themselves," he said.

    The United Nations humanitarian co-ordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Jamie Goldrick, said he was "extremely saddened and appalled by the Israeli army's multiple air strikes" that hit the convoy.

    "This is not an isolated incident. As of March 20, at least 196 humanitarians had been killed in the Occupied Palestinian Territory since October 2023. This is nearly three times the death toll recorded in any single conflict in a year," he said.

    The United Arab Emirates, which had been the main financier for WCK's aid efforts, said it was pausing shipments from Cyprus pending further safety guarantees from Israel and a full investigation.

    A World Food Programme report released at the weekend found 1.1 million people in Gaza had completely exhausted their food supplies and were struggling with catastrophic hunger.

    It expected famine to arrive in northern Gaza, where about 300,000 people remained trapped, between now and May.

    The WCK estimates it has provided more than 35 million meals in Gaza since October 2023. It suspended its operations in the territory after the attack.

    In a statement, Ms Frankcom's family asked for privacy and said she would leave behind "a legacy of compassion, bravery and love for all those in her orbit".

    Australian PM Anthony Albanese described the deaths of the aid workers as "completely unacceptable", while Foreign Minister Penny Wong has also made representations to the Israeli government.

    Meanwhile, the UK's foreign office summoned the Israeli ambassador for a please explain, and Canada's Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said she was "horrified" about the IDF's strikes.

    US President Joe Biden today called WCK founder José Andrés to express his heartbreak, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said.

    "The president conveyed he will make clear to Israel that humanitarian aid workers must be protected," she said.

    At a briefing on Tuesday, Israeli government spokesperson David Mencer said Mr Netanyahu had contacted counterparts abroad whose citizens were killed in the strikes.

    "The prime minister has spoken to other governments that have been affected by this tragic case," Mr Mencer said.

    "Genuine aid workers are really the unsung heroes in conflicts around the world."

    © 2024 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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