Joe Biden says Israel ‘has not done enough’ to protect aid workers and civilians in Gaza

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US President Joe Biden said Israel “has not done enough” to protect aid workers and civilians in Gaza and blamed it for making it difficult to distribute humanitarian aid after the death of seven workers in an Israeli strike.

In a lengthy statement on Tuesday night, Biden did not signal any shift in US policy but was repeatedly critical of Israel. He said he was “outraged and heartbroken” by the deaths of workers from World Central Kitchen, an aid group founded by Spanish-born, Washington-based chef José Andrés.

Biden said what happened to WCK this week was not a “standalone incident”, as the war in Gaza “has been one of the worst in recent memory” in terms of the killing of aid workers.

“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.

“Israel has also not done enough to protect civilians. The United States has repeatedly urged Israel to deconflict their military operations against Hamas with humanitarian operations, in order to avoid civilian casualties,” he added.

Biden’s comments reflect the tension in the US-Israeli relationship that has been building for months. Washington continues to stand by its ally, including with military aid, but has grown frustrated with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not heeding its calls to minimise civilian casualties and accept a two-state solution with Palestinians in the region.

Earlier in the day, Netanyahu had admitted to “a tragic incident in the last 24 hours in which our forces unintentionally hit innocent people in the Gaza Strip”. He said that “it happens in wartime . . . We will do everything we can to ensure this isn’t repeated.” Israel has also launched a probe of the incident.

Biden has said the investigation “must be swift, it must bring accountability, and its findings must be made public”.

The US president has been facing growing domestic and international pressure to take a tougher approach towards Netanyahu that might lead Israel to scale down or even stop its military operations in Gaza. But Washington is still baulking at imposing any conditions on the delivery of aid to Israel, and insists that based on the US state department’s assessment, the Jewish state has not violated international humanitarian law in its approach to the war.

WCK said the seven people killed on Monday night included Australian, Polish, UK and Palestinian staff members, as well as a dual US-Canadian citizen. It added that it was “immediately” pausing its operations in the region, where aid groups have warned of the risk of imminent famine.

Biden called Andrés on Tuesday to express his sorrow over the killing of the WCK workers.

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