US military plans for Gaza unchanged after killing of aid workers

by Tommy Grant

U.S. military officials won’t alter their plans for humanitarian assistance in Gaza following the killing of seven international aid workers by Israeli forces on Monday, even as other charities are scaling back their efforts in response.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged on Tuesday that aid workers from World Central Kitchen were killed by an “unintended strike” by Israeli forces despite charity officials previously coordinating with military leadership over their movements and status as non-combatants.

The individuals killed included an American citizen and three British nationals. White House national security spokesman John Kirby said White House officials were “outraged” by the news and will closely follow Israel’s investigation into the case.

The United Nations has reported more than 200 humanitarian workers have been killed in the fighting in Gaza since last fall. Government officials from Cyprus, who in recent months have been attempting to establish a humanitarian aid route to the region, said ships with roughly 240 tons of supplies were turned around this week amid concerns following the latest aid worker deaths.

However, Pentagon and White House officials said the latest tragedy will not delay U.S. plans to build a floating dock offshore of Gaza to help speed humanitarian aid to Palestinians.

“We’re well aware that Gaza is a war zone, and frankly that is what makes it so challenging to get humanitarian aid to people in need there,” Kirby said.

“Protection of our troops … will be first and foremost on the president’s mind, as well as our military leaders, to make sure that they can build that pier, assemble it and operate it in a safe way.”

Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said that construction of the dock is still expected to begin in late April or early May. More than 1,000 American service members will be involved in the effort, and at least eight military vessels.

“We don’t want to see any humanitarian aid worker or the distribution of aid targeted,” she said. “So, we are working with partners in the region to figure out how that aid is going to be distributed, and there are negotiations ongoing.”

U.S. military officials have repeatedly stated that no American forces will go ashore in the operation, and that they are working closely with Israeli military forces and other allies to ensure American troops are protected from potential terrorist strikes.

Meanwhile, American air forces are continuing to conduct aid drops in the region until the dock is built.

On Tuesday, U.S. Central Command issued a statement acknowledging that about 60 bundles of food were lost after landing in the sea, another blow in the aid efforts. But officials said that “25,344 meal equivalents, including rice, flour, milk, pasta, and canned food,” were successfully delivered to the region.

Republican lawmakers in recent days have attacked the White House dock plan as foolish and potentially dangerous for U.S. troops. But their alternative ideas involve the return of hostages and surrender of Hamas leaders to Israeli officials, a concession the militant group has refused to make.

Singh could not say whether weapons supplied by American military forces were used in the attack on the humanitarian convoy.

Kirby said White House officials are not re-evaluating their military support for Israel in light of the latest tragedy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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