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Israeli strikes on aid convoys are not unusual, Human Rights Watch says

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The watchdog group Human Rights Watch has a report out today that says Israel is attacking known locations of aid workers. This comes a day after an attack killed the first foreign U.N. aid workers since the start of Israel's war in Gaza, highlighting the dangers aid workers face in this conflict. The U.N. says more than 250 have been killed in Gaza since October. The lead researcher on today's report is Belkis Wille of the Crisis Conflict and Arms Division of Human Rights Watch, and she joins us now. Good morning.

BELKIS WILLE: Thank you for having me.

FADEL: So when seven people were killed from the food charity World Central Kitchen, including an American, we heard international condemnation and a strong reaction from the U.S. But your report found this wasn't a one-off. Can you tell us briefly what you found in these other cases?

WILLE: Yeah, it's really important to situate that attack on the World Central Kitchen in the context of these many other attacks that have occurred since October in Gaza. We've documented incidents of attacks on guest houses, on convoys of aid organizations, including Doctors Without Borders, MSF, the UN institution there UNRWA, the International Rescue Committee, and Medical Aid for Palestinians and another American aid group. And in every single one of these instances, these groups notified the authorities, the Israeli authorities multiple times about the GPS coordinate of the guest house, of the convoy that was moving. When it was convoys, they were taking agreed-upon routes that the Israelis had told them to take. And in every instance, these attacks occurred with zero prior warning to the aid organizations, and we're talking about, you know, 15 aid workers having been killed in these attacks and another including two children, family members, and another 16 injured.

FADEL: What did the Israeli military say about your findings, if anything?

WILLE: We wrote a letter to the Israelis about all eight strikes that we examined. We received absolutely no answer from them. In all of these instances, the aid organizations themselves also reached out to the Israeli authorities afterwards, demanding an answer as to what happened, demanding an investigation. In some cases, Israeli commanders told them that these incidents had happened in error. So they'd been mistaken strikes. In other instances, they got, in one case, six different answers from the Israeli authorities as to why the strike occurred and many of these six reasons actually directly contradicting each other.

FADEL: Is this making it harder to get aid workers to go into Gaza, to respond to this incredible humanitarian disaster?

WILLE: Absolutely. You know, when I was in Egypt in early April, I was speaking to aid organizations that are basing their operations there and sending teams into Gaza. And without fail, every single one of them told me that these attacks on aid workers and their activities is a huge impediment for them. It means that they need to really critically examine whether to send less people into Gaza because of the risks they're exposing their staff to, and it means while in Gaza, they need to really limit their activities, even though the needs there are so great and the work they're doing really is lifesaving, because of the risks that their staff will get attacked and will get killed.

FADEL: Now, after these findings, what are you recommending or asking the Israeli military to do?

WILLE: Well, we continue to call on the Israeli military to investigate attacks where civilians are killed, whether it's aid workers or other civilians. They have a duty to investigate these incidents. But more than that, given the number of incidents of attacks directly on aid workers and their activities, we think there needs to be a review done by international experts, who are experts in the process, which is known as humanitarian deconfliction, to understand what the problem is with the Israeli military deconfliction system? Why is it that when organizations send their coordinates, they're still getting hit? You know, we really need to have an independent examination of that process and recommendations by international independent experts that the Israeli military needs to commit to putting into place so that these attacks on aid workers end.

FADEL: And very quickly, I mean, we just mentioned that number, 250 aid workers. In your experience, how does this toll compare to other conflicts?

WILLE: You know, I've been working in conflict zones for about a decade now all over the world, and aid workers do get killed sometimes in the context of conflicts. But these numbers, and particularly the number of over 250 within such a short period of time, are really astronomical.

FADEL: Belkis Wille is an associate director with Human Rights Watch. Thank you for your time.

WILLE: Thank you.

FADEL: NPR reached out to the Israeli military about the findings of this report. We haven't heard back yet. You'll find more coverage of this conflict and many differing views at npr.org/mideastupdates. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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