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Canadian army veteran Jacob Flickinger is shown in a handout photo.HO/The Canadian Press

Attacks on aid workers are not something that just happens in war, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday, slamming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s defence of a deadly air strike in central Gaza on April 1.

Canadian Army veteran Jacob Flickinger, 33, was among those killed while delivering food aid for World Central Kitchen.

Netanyahu said Wednesday the blasts were a tragic accident that will be investigated – but also a consequence of armed conflict.

“This happens in war,” Netanyahu said.

At a news conference in Winnipeg Thursday, Trudeau said he had to “directly take issue” with those comments.

“No, it doesn’t just happen,” Trudeau said. “And it shouldn’t just happen when you have aid workers for an extraordinary organization like World Central Kitchen risking their lives every day in an incredibly dangerous place to deliver food to people who are experiencing a horrific humanitarian catastrophe.”

World Central Kitchen is demanding a full independent investigation into the attack that killed its workers.

They were in a clearly marked aid convoy after delivering 100 tonnes of food to a warehouse in central Gaza when they were hit.

Also killed in the attack were Lalzawmi (Zomi) Frankcom, 43, from Australia; Polish national Damian Sobol, 35; Palestinian Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, 25; and John Chapman, 57, James Henderson, 33, and James Kirby, 47, all British citizens.

Trudeau said a “fully open, transparent, independent and rapid investigation” is absolutely required.

But he said a ceasefire and a massive influx of humanitarian support is also critical.

“The reality is we need much more humanitarian support to flow into Gaza, much more protection of civilians, of innocents and of aid workers,” he said.

“That’s why we need a humanitarian ceasefire. We need for Hamas to lay down its arms. We need for the hostages to be released, and we need a ceasefire to allow this humanitarian catastrophe to end as quickly as possible.”

International reaction to the deadly air strikes has been swift and biting at a time when Israel was already facing sharp criticism for the humanitarian toll of its war in Gaza. The Palestinian death toll has soared above 33,000 people, with more than 75,600 wounded, the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza said Thursday.

U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Netanyahu for 45 minutes Thursday by phone, and told him that future U.S. support for Israel’s war depends on new steps to protect civilians and aid workers.

“He made clear the need for Israel to announce and implement a series of specific, concrete and measurable steps to address civilian harm, humanitarian suffering and the safety of aid workers,” the White House said in a statement.

“He made clear that U.S. policy with respect to Gaza will be determined by our assessment of Israel’s immediate action on these steps.”

The U.S. has been one of Israel’s biggest defenders and earlier this week approved the transfer of additional bombs to the Israeli military.

But Biden has been increasingly frustrated with the limited aid Israel is allowing into the territory and the growing death toll of civilians.

World Central Kitchen founder Jose Andres has a friendship with the Bidens and cooked meals at the White House when president Barack Obama was in office.

Andres rejects Israel’s assertion that it was an accidental attack, saying the charity had clear communication with Israel about when and where the aid workers would be moving.

He said Israel’s right to defend itself does not extend to killing innocent people.

Trudeau spoke with Andres on Thursday, offering condolences for the loss of the seven World Central Kitchen workers.

“The prime minister expressed his grief over the death of Jacob Flickinger, a Canadian who worked tirelessly alongside his fellow aid workers to deliver food for Palestinian civilians facing extreme hunger,” said a government readout.

Jonathan Duguay, a close friend of Flickinger who was working in Cyprus for World Central Kitchen at the time of the attack, told The Canadian Press in an interview that Flickinger wasn’t afraid because the aid deliveries were co-ordinated with Israel’s assistance.

“We had an agreement with the IDF,” said Duguay. “There was a special route. They knew where we were.”

Flickinger joined World Central Kitchen last fall to help recover from PTSD developed during his tour in Afghanistan. He and his partner, Sandy Leclerc, had recently moved to Costa Rica with their son, who is 18 months old.

A GoFundMe created to pay for his funeral costs and a trust fund for his son had raised almost $156,000 by Thursday afternoon, well above the family’s goal of $100,000.

Herzi Halevi, the Israel Defence Forces chief of staff, said Wednesday he had received a preliminary report on the strike and insisted the aid workers were not intentionally targeted.

“I want to be very clear – the strike was not carried out with the intention of harming WCK aid workers. It was a mistake that followed a misidentification – at night during a war in very complex conditions. It shouldn’t have happened.”

Halevi said World Central Kitchen does important work in difficult conditions and said Israel is “taking immediate actions to ensure that more is done to protect humanitarian aid workers.”

“This incident was a grave mistake,” Halevi told reporters in a televised address in Israel.

“Israel is at war with Hamas, not with the people of Gaza. 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 organization, from the bottom of our hearts.”

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