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A Palestinian inspects near a vehicle where employees from the World Central Kitchen were killed in an Israeli airstrike, in Deir Al-Balah, in the central Gaza, Strip on April 2.Ahmed Zakot/Reuters

U.S. President Joe Biden is demanding that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reach an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip after Israeli forces killed seven aid workers Monday and amid mounting fears of a famine in the besieged territory.

In a telephone call Thursday, Mr. Biden also pressed Mr. Netanyahu to open more border crossings into Gaza to allow humanitarian aid to enter and to take steps to protect aid workers and other civilians, the White House said.

A few hours after the call, Mr. Biden’s office said Israel’s cabinet had agreed to open the Erez crossing from Israel into northern Gaza, receive international aid shipments at Israel’s Ashdod port and ensure that more aid arriving from Jordan can enter Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing.

Despite Mr. Biden’s sharper tone, he has not done anything to punish Mr. Netanyahu’s government, which receives billions of dollars in annual military aid from the United States.

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Top left to right: Palestinian Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, Lalzawmi 'Zomi' Frankcom of Australia, Damian Soból of Poland, and Jacob Flickinger of the U.S. and Canada. Bottom left to right: John Chapman of Britain, James Henderson of Britain and James Kirby of Britain. This combination of photos provided by World Central Kitchen/, shows seven aid workers who were killed in Gaza on April 1.The Associated Press

The White House’s growing frustration with Mr. Netanyahu comes amid condemnation of Israel by some of its closest allies and international aid organizations, which have accused the Israeli military of deliberately attacking humanitarian relief efforts in Gaza.

Almost 200 aid workers have been killed in Gaza since Oct. 7, according to the United Nations, including the seven from World Central Kitchen who died Monday night when their cars were hit by Israeli drones. The dead included three staff members from Britain, an Australian, a Pole, a Palestinian and a dual citizen of Canada and the United States.

“President Biden emphasized that the strikes on humanitarian workers and the overall humanitarian situation are unacceptable,” a summary of Mr. Biden’s call with Mr. Netanyahu said. “He underscored that an immediate ceasefire is essential to stabilize and improve the humanitarian situation and protect innocent civilians.”

John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, warned before the announcement on the Erez opening that Israel has “hours and days” to show concrete progress on “a dramatic increase in the humanitarian assistance getting in, additional crossings opened up and a reduction in violence against civilians and, certainly, aid workers.”

But Mr. Kirby would not say what consequences, if any, the U.S. would impose if Israel does not comply. “I’m not going to preview any potential policy decisions coming forward. What we want to see are some real changes on the Israeli side. And if we don’t see changes from their side, there will have to be changes from our side,” he told reporters at the White House.

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White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby and Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre talk to reporters during the daily news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on April 4, in Washington, DC.Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Throughout Israel’s blockade and invasion of Gaza, Mr. Biden has regularly expressed alarm over mounting civilian casualties and the risk of famine. However, he has continued to back a US$14.1-billion package of additional military aid for Israel, which is currently stuck in Congress. The U.S. also gives more than US$3-billion annually to Israel’s military under an agreement signed during the Obama administration.

On Thursday, World Central Kitchen called for an independent investigation into the air strikes to determine “whether they were carried out intentionally or otherwise violated international law.”

The charity’s founder, Spanish-American chef José Andrés, has accused the Israel Defense Forces of targeting WCK’s convoy of three cars.

“This was not just a bad-luck situation where, ‘oops,’ we dropped the bomb in the wrong place,” Mr. Andrés said Wednesday. The vehicles were clearly marked with the WCK logo, he added, and the charity had provided the convoy’s whereabouts to the IDF. “They knew that it was our teams moving on that road.”

Mr. Andrés has a particularly high profile in Washington, where his restaurant empire and charity are based. Mr. Biden, who refers to the chef as a “friend,” spoke with him by phone this week.

The IDF has apologized for the WCK killings and said an investigation was under way. Israeli government officials have also denied that humanitarian aid workers are being targeted by the IDF.

Airstrikes on aid workers don’t ‘just happen,’ Trudeau says after Netanyahu comments

“With all due respect, there’s no way in the world that Israel would target people that come to give people aid,” Economy Minister Nir Barkat told the BBC. “It’s part of war. We do everything we can that it will not happen and learn from the incident and make sure it does not happen again.”

Mr. Netanyahu said the drone attack on the WCK workers was tragic but an inevitable consequence of fighting. “This happens in war,” he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday said he had to “directly take issue” with that statement.

“No, it doesn’t just happen,” he told reporters in Winnipeg. “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.”

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Palestinians clear building rubble following overnight Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 4.MOHAMMED ABED/Getty Images

Representatives from other organizations have said the IDF has intentionally attacked relief centres and aid workers, explaining that their co-ordination with the military had broken down.

Under a long-standing practice known as “deconfliction,” humanitarian agencies working in war zones provide details of their operations to military parties to ensure they aren’t targeted. That often includes GPS details, information about intended routes and when workers will be travelling.

The number of attacks on aid workers “is either intentional or indicative of reckless incompetence,” said Christopher Lockyear, secretary-general of Médecins sans frontières (Doctors Without Borders), which has had five staff killed by IDF missile strikes in separate incidents. “It not only shows the failure of deconfliction measures, it shows the futility of these measures in a war fought with no rules. That these attacks on humanitarian workers are allowed to happen is a political choice.”

Mr. Lockyear told reporters Thursday that MSF planned to continue operating in Gaza but was assessing the risk on a daily basis. He added that the charity has not received any explanation from the Israeli military about the attacks that killed its staff.

“Israel has now killed more aid workers in Gaza than all other armies, militias and terrorists in all other wars combined,” said Jan Egeland, who heads the Norwegian Refugee Council.

WCK has suspended its operations and halted shipments of food supplies by sea from Cyprus. One of its primary partners, Washington-based charity Anera, has also paused its activities in Gaza.

The two organizations were supplying some two million meals a week across the territory. Mr. Lockyear said many of MSF’s staff and patients depended on WCK for meals.

Israel is also coming under increased pressure from other allies.

On Thursday, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk called on Israel to offer compensation to the victims’ families. “There is no excuse, there were no difficult circumstances. We all know what happened,” Mr. Tusk told reporters.

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Secretary General of MSF International Christopher Lockyear speaks about the worsening situation in Gaza, where Doctors without Borders (MSF) teams are working, during a press conference at the headquarters of MSF in Geneva, Switzerland, on April 4.Martial Trezzini/The Associated Press

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing increasing calls to stop the sale of weapons to Israel. On Thursday, more than 600 lawyers, including three former Supreme Court justices, signed an open letter urging him to push for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and halt British arms sales to Israel.

Britain is not a major supplier of weapons to Israel, with total sales of just £42-million (about $72-million) in 2022. Mr. Sunak said this week that he has urged Mr. Netanyahu to conduct a “thorough, transparent investigation into what happened” in the WCK incident. But he stopped short of saying he would suspend arms sales.

With a report from The Canadian Press

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday called on Israel, as a democracy, to place the highest value on human life and increase the flow of aid to Gaza, adding that this week's 'horrific attack' on World Central Kitchen workers in Gaza must be the last such incident.


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