The Latest | Food aid charity demands independent investigation of Israeli strikes

World Central Kitchen demanded an independent investigation into the Israeli strikes that killed seven of its staff in Gaza, as Israel faced growing isolation Wednesday over the deaths of six foreign aid workers and a Palestinian driver helping deliver desperately needed food to isolated and starving residents.

Wednesday night, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told his Israeli counterpart that the strikes, which Israel says targeted the aid workers in error, strengthened U.S. concerns about Israel’s plans to expand its ground offensive and said that Israel must do more to protect the lives of civilians and aid workers in Gaza.

Israel’s war in Gaza has killed nearly 33,000 Palestinians, the territory’s Health Ministry says. The ministry doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants in its tally, but says women and children make up two-thirds of the dead. The United Nations says much of the population in northern Gaza is on the brink of starvation.

The war began on Oct. 7, when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 people hostage.

Currently:

— World Central Kitchen is saving lives with food but paying a price in blood.

— Family and friends recall ‘brave’ and ‘selfless’ aid workers killed in Israeli airstrikes.

— Killing of aid workers adds to pressure on the U.K. government to halt arms sales to Israel.

— Yemen’s Houthis may be running low on weapons stocks as attacks on ships slow, U.S. commander says.

Muslim American leaders reject chance to break bread with Biden as anger over Gaza festers.

Palestinians seek full U.N. membership again, but the U.S. is almost certain to block it for a second time.

— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

Here’s the latest:

WORLD CENTRAL KITCHEN DEMANDS INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION INTO AID WORKERS’ DEATHS

NICOSIA, Cyprus — World Central Kitchen is calling for an independent investigation into the Israeli strikes that killed seven of its aid workers in Gaza.

In a statement issued Thursday, the international food charity says it has asked Australia, Canada, Poland, the United States and the United Kingdom, whose citizens were killed, to join them in demanding “an independent, third-party investigation into these attacks.”

“We asked the Israeli government to immediately preserve all documents, communications, video and/or audio recordings, and any other materials potentially relevant to the April 1 strikes,” the statement said.

Israel says it carried out the strikes by mistake and that it has launched its own investigation into the attack.

The military carried out multiple strikes on a convoy of three cars, at least one of which was clearly marked with the charity’s logo. World Central Kitchen says it coordinated the team’s movements with the army, which was “aware of their itinerary, route and humanitarian mission.”

The workers were delivering aid that had arrived by sea in a recently opened maritime corridor aimed at getting food to hundreds of thousands of starving Palestinians in northern Gaza, which has been largely isolated by Israeli forces for months.

The attack interrupted those efforts, as World Central Kitchen and other charities suspended operations over the deteriorating security situation. The ships returned to Cyprus with an estimated 240 tons of undelivered humanitarian aid.

U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY URGES ISRAEL TO PROTECT LIVES IN GAZA

WASHINGTON — The U.S. defense secretary said the Israeli strikes that killed seven aid workers this week “reinforce” concerns about Israel’s plans to expand its ground offensive to the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

Lloyd Austin “expressed his outrage” over the strikes in a phone call with his Israeli counterpart, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, late Wednesday, according to a Pentagon readout of the call.

Austin “stressed the need to immediately take concrete steps to protect aid workers and Palestinian civilians in Gaza after repeated coordination failures with foreign aid groups.” He also reiterated U.S. calls for an independent investigation into Monday’s deadly strikes.

“This tragedy reinforced the expressed concern over a potential Israeli military operation in Rafah, specifically focusing on the need to ensure the evacuation of Palestinian civilians and the flow of humanitarian aid,” Austin said.

Israel has said the multiple strikes on the aid workers’ convoy was a mistake and that it has launched an independent investigation.

The U.S. has provided crucial military aid and diplomatic support for Israel’s nearly six-month offensive, which was launched in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack.

Israel has vowed to expand ground operations to Rafah, where some 1.4 million Palestinians — over half of Gaza’s population — have sought refuge. Rafah is also a key gateway for the delivery of humanitarian aid. Israel says it is the last major stronghold for thousands of Hamas fighters.

The U.S. has said a full-scale invasion of Rafah would be a mistake, urging Israel to instead carry out more precise operations focused on Hamas.

U.N. SAYS ACUTE MALNUTRITION WORSENING FOR YOUNGSTERS IN NORTH GAZA

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations children’s agency says one-third of the children under age 2 in northern Gaza were suffering from acute malnutrition in March, adding that the figure “has more than doubled in the last two months.”

UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Ted Chaiban told the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday that “dozens of children in the northern Gaza Strip have reportedly died from malnutrition and dehydration in recent weeks, and half the population is facing catastrophic food insecurity.”

Chaiban said he saw “a staggering decline in the conditions of children” during his second visit to Gaza in January.

He pointed to widespread destruction of infrastructure, “a quasi-blockade” on the north, repeated denials or delays in getting Israeli approval for humanitarian convoys, and fuel shortages and electricity and telecommunications blackouts which have been “devastating for children.”

Virginia Gamba, the U.N. special envoy for children in conflict, told the council that the latest U.N. report issued last year verified 3,941 cases where youngsters were prevented from getting food and other assistance. The highest figures, she said, were in Gaza and the West Bank, Yemen, Afghanistan and Mali.

Gamba said data gathered for the next report in June “shows we are on target to witness a shocking increase of the incidents of the denial of humanitarian access globally.” In addition to the Palestinian territories, she pointed to Haiti where there are “high levels of arbitrary impediments and/or outright denial of humanitarian access to children.”

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said doctors in Gaza have reported being horrified at treating children suffering from war wounds and watching children die from acute malnutrition.

She said that “humanitarian assistance is desperately needed now, and it must be facilitated to mitigate the impact of an impending famine.”

Thomas-Greenfield said that food and other aid is also urgently needed for children in Congo, Afghanistan, Sudan and Africa’s Sahel region and for Rohingya Muslim youngsters in Myanmar.

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