The Israeli army fired on an aid convoy in Gaza. Riad Othman of Medico International speaks of a targeted attack.

Aerial view showing a barge loaded with groceries with two red boats arriving to the left and right.

Boring and ineffective: World Central Kitchen barge loaded with food arrives on Gaza coast Photo: Israel Defense Forces/Reuters

wochentaz: Mr Othman, after a conversation with US President Joe Biden, Israel has announced that it will finally open the northern Erez crossing into Gaza for the delivery of aid, and that more goods will also arrive through the Kerem Shalom crossing.

Riad Othman: The decision is going in the right direction. But the usefulness of such decisions depends on how many trucks are actually processed through each crossing each day. And that is the crux of the matter. There were completely erratic admission criteria; Entire trucks were returned and, contrary to claims by the Israeli military, not enough shipments arrived and in some cases their distribution could not be guaranteed due to access restrictions due to the security situation. The decision to open Erez is not a sure success until the Americans apply adequate pressure to determine how many humanitarian aid shipments Israel should let in. Here too the devil is in the details.

Born in 1976, since 2016 he has been a Middle East consultant for the human rights organization Medico International in Berlin. Previously, he was director of Medico's Israel and Palestine office.

US President Biden held a conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. due to an attack on a convoy belonging to the aid organization World Central Kitchen (WCK). Seven international WCK employees were killed in the attack. How did you react to this incident?

In my opinion, this is a continuation of the policy we have seen in recent months: Israel is systematically attacking humanitarian structures, health facilities and ambulances; Humanitarian aid is systematically withheld or at least not permitted to a sufficient extent, in contravention of international law. This can also be seen in the number of hundreds of healthcare workers who have been killed in Gaza since October 7. In UNRWA alone there are 176 so far. Many of these cases cannot be justified by the presence of Hamas or Palestinian militants.

Can we rule out the presence of Hamas in hospitals?

If an army systematically damages or destroys all of Gaza's hospitals to such an extent that in the end only 10 of 36 are partially functioning; Although simpler health centers have also been destroyed, I believe there is a systematic approach to the 412 attacks that have occurred since October 7. During the same period, there were 450 attacks on health facilities and ambulances in the West Bank, which cannot be justified by the war.

Do you also believe that the attack on the WCK convoy was targeted?

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The media often talks about “an airstrike.” However, from the geographical data of the images it appears that the three WCK vehicles were attacked at a distance of 2.5 kilometers. The first to be hit was a vehicle. Then, about 800 meters further on, the second, to which the survivors of the first had been transported. The third vehicle was attacked again 1.6 kilometers further south. This can no longer be called an oversight.

WCK withdrew its employees from Gaza after the attack.

Achieving it sounds so definitive. In my opinion, like other organisations, such as Project Hope, they are temporarily suspending their work until it is clarified how they can ensure that aid workers are no longer targeted in the future.

How can your safety be ensured?

I think that given the way the war is being fought, it cannot be ruled out that something like this will not happen again. Neither with the approach nor with the population density. In reality, this can only happen if a ceasefire is finally achieved.

However, Hamas also appears to accept its civilian casualties.

Yes, that is correct. But blaming Hamas alone for everything that happens in Gaza is also a mistake. The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, was very clear: even if Hamas is among the civilian population or abuses protected facilities, the norms of international law remain applicable, and the fundamental responsibility lies with the party in the conflict. Conflict that has removed the presses. Hamas, on the other hand, is responsible for what happened on October 7, for the murdered civilians and the hostages. Also due to the indiscriminate bombing of Israeli cities with rockets. These are also war crimes and Hamas will have to answer for them.

Aid organizations – including Medico – continue to warn that Gaza is on the brink of famine.

Yes. According to the CPI, an internationally recognized tool for identifying hunger crises, one and a half million people are in the two highest levels of the famine warning system, mainly in northern Gaza, which the Israeli army controls. Another almost 600,000 people are at level three, that is, already in a serious crisis. Some deaths from hunger are already occurring, especially among young children. Often people do not die directly from starvation, but from infectious diseases that the body could cope with under normal circumstances.

Does the withdrawal of WCK and other aid organizations from Gaza threaten to further aggravate the situation?

I consider the impact on the humanitarian situation in Gaza to be negligible. The quantities that WCK can convert through the maritime corridor are very small compared to what it could reach by land. WCK took on an important task in a situation where humanitarian organizations had to choose between plague and cholera. They have agreed to participate in the sea corridor, something that other aid organizations that have long worked in Gaza have rightly criticized.

Why right?

For example, it was unclear how the distribution would work. WCK did not have a distribution structure that was in any way comparable to what local Palestinian organizations and especially UNRWA had built there for decades. However, the main problem is that even with this maritime corridor, aid deliveries to Gaza remain completely inadequate. You just have to do the math: How long does it take for a ship carrying 240 tons of relief supplies from Cyprus to the coast of Gaza? How long will it take to unload this floating dock once completed? How long will it take then to get supplies to Gaza's shallow coastal waters? For comparison: a truck alone can carry at least 27 tons. Therefore, ten trucks could easily deliver what would take much longer by boat and would have to be reloaded several times.

Would you say delivery by ship should not have been made?

No, I say the approach is crazy. The humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza is purely man-made, and resolving it does not require a sea corridor, but rather land access, which is possible in principle. Airdrops or a sea corridor are really a last resort. As an aid worker, I only experienced airdrops once: after the earthquake in Pakistan in 2005, when entire mountain slopes slid and in the first days barely any aid could reach the mountain villages, not even by mules. A natural disaster prevented access. But that's not the case here. Here, until now, an army prevents access by order of its government and continues to receive weapons from the US and the Federal Republic. This is unacceptable.

What do you as a doctor demand from the German government?

Under the current circumstances, with documented war crimes in Gaza, some committed by Israeli forces themselves, it would be necessary to stop arms deliveries immediately. It is not about ammunition for the anti-missile shield, but about supplying weapons suitable for war. The federal government should finally meet its own obligations under international law…

…Does it refer to preventing war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by third countries?

Yes, in accordance with its obligations under the Geneva Convention and the Rome Statute. And: Germany should put pressure on the Israeli government to ensure that it also respects international law. And that really only works with a ceasefire or ceasefire.