Officers sacked, drone strike findings revealed

The Israeli military has dismissed two of its officers over drone strikes that killed Australian Zomi Frankcom and six colleagues while they were delivering aid in Gaza.

In a report released on Friday (local time), the military said they had mishandled critical information and violated the army’s rules of engagement.

The inquiry found Israeli forces mistakenly believed they were attacking Hamas gunmen when drones hit the three vehicles of the World Central Kitchen aid group late on Monday night, and that standard procedures had not been followed.

“The strike on the aid vehicles is a grave mistake stemming from a serious failure due to a mistaken identification, errors in decision-making and an attack contrary to the Standard Operating Procedures,” the military said in a statement issued on Friday.

Three others were also reprimanded for their roles in the strikes on a convoy of World Central Kitchen (WCK) workers on Monday.

Zomi Frankcom’s family say they support a war crimes investigation into Israel’s actions. Photo: AAP

After publication of the findings, World Central Kitchen demanded an independent commission to investigate the incident.

The organisation said the Israeli investigation was an important step but there needed to be a systemic change to prevent “more apologies and more grieving families”.

Jose Andres, the chef who founded World Central Kitchen, said this week the seven workers had been targeted “systematically, car by car” as they scrambled to seek shelter when their vehicles were hit in succession.

“The IDF has acknowledged its responsibility and its fatal errors in the deadly attack on our convoy in Gaza,” the charity said in a statement.

“It is also taking disciplinary action against those in command and committed to other reforms. These are important steps forward.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday the United States was carefully reviewing Israel’s inquiry and would look very carefully at what steps Israel was taking.

“It’s very important that Israel is taking full responsibility for this incident.

It’s also important that it appears to be taking steps to hold those responsible accountable.

Even more important is that steps are being taken going forward to ensure that something like this can never happen again,” Blinken told reporters in Brussels.

Earlier on Friday, Israeli Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner told ABC radio the military was sorry for the “very grave mistake” and officers who were involved in the strike would face consequences.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said it was not good enough to describe the killings of the aid workers as “just a product of war”.

He previously labelled the explanations of the deaths given by Israel as “insufficient and unacceptable”.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong rebuked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for “deeply insensitive” comments attempting to “brush aside” his military’s culpability in the strike.

In a video statement released on Tuesday, Mr Netanyahu admitted Israeli forces “unintentionally” hit innocent people, adding “this happens in wartime”.

“We do not accept any suggestion that this is just something that can be brushed aside as just something that happens in war,” Senator Wong told a Guardian Australia podcast recorded on Thursday and due to be released on Saturday.

“Even in war, there are rules and they include the principles of distinction between a military target and a civilian target.

“We do not accept that these events – this attack on an aid convoy – can be dismissed or lessened or diminished in any way at all.”

Seven aid workers were killed in the drone attack in Gaza Monday, April 1. Photo: AAP

Ms Frankcom’s family say they support a war crimes investigation and charges if they are justified.

Possible criminal probe

The case was also handed over to the military advocate general to consider a possible criminal investigation, the military said.

The military said that as the aid convoy which the light vehicles were accompanying was travelling down the coastal road in Gaza towards a logistics point late on Monday, armed suspects had climbed onto at least one of the trucks.

The army showed reporters drone footage of a man on top of a lorry firing a rifle, which a spokesperson said had prompted the military to try, unsuccessfully, to contact WCK co-ordinators.

After the convoy reached a hangar and the trucks were unloaded, the three WCK vehicles left the location and turned south down the coast road shortly after 11pm.

However, Israeli commanders could not see their identifying logos in the dark and did not identify them as belonging to WCK.

Yoav Har-Even, the former major general who led the inquiry, said forces had acted on the mistaken belief that the vehicles had been seized by Hamas fighters.

As the cars departed the hangar, one of the men getting into the vehicles had been carrying a bag which the operators watching drone footage took to be a rifle.

“The state of mind at that time was that the humanitarian mission had ended and that they were tracking Hamas vehicles with one suspected gunman, at least one suspected gunman, that they misidentified to be inside one of the three cars,” he told reporters in a briefing.

“They struck that car and then they identified people running out of the car and entering a second car, which is when they decided to strike the second car. Then two people left the second car and entered the third car, which is when they struck the third car.”

Those strikes were in breach of IDF standard operating procedures, he said.

—with AAP 

Topics: Israel
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