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UN vehicle attack in Rafah: UN condoles death of ex-Indian Army officer in Gaza, believes vehicle struck by Israeli tank

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The United Nations (UN) condoled and expressed apologies to India over the killing of a former Indian Army officer, who died in war-torn Rafah in Gaza when the vehicle he was travelling in was attacked by shots fired from what it believes was an Israeli tank.

Colonel Waibhav Anil Kale, 46, who retired prematurely from the Indian Army in 2022, joined the world body as a Security Coordination Officer in the UN Department of Safety and Security (DSS) two months ago.

He was killed, and another DSS staffer from Jordan was injured when their UN-marked vehicle was struck when they were travelling to the European Hospital in war-torn Rafah in Gaza on Monday morning.

Kale, who had commanded the 11 Jammu & Kashmir Rifles in Kashmir, is the “first international casualty” for the world body since the Israel-Hamas conflict started last year.

“We also express our apologies and our condolences to the Government and people of India,” Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said at the daily press briefing on Tuesday in response to a question by PTI.

“We appreciate the contribution that India has made,” he said. Haq said the UN has established a fact-finding panel to look into the deadly attack. “It’s very early in the investigation, and details of the incident are still being verified with the Israeli Defence Force (IDF),” Haq said.

The fact-finding mission is being set up by the Department of Safety and Security.

Haq said that a weapon appears to have impacted the back of the white UN vehicle that was carrying the two UN staff members, killing Kale and injuring the other DSS female staff member who is receiving medical attention and “we believe that she will make it through.”

“The deceased staff member has been identified. He is Waibhav Anil Kale of India, and we send our condolences to his family,” he said.

Haq confirmed that this was the “first international casualty” for the UN in Gaza and added that currently, the world body has 71 international staff in Gaza.

When asked if the UN is in contact with Israeli officials regarding the attack, Haq replied in the affirmative and said, “I think the point is we are in discussion with Israel to determine exactly how this incident happened and the nature of what happened.”

“I don’t think at this stage we are in doubt about where the shots came from as much as what the circumstances were,” he added.

Haq said the UN believes the shots came from a tank in the area.

When asked that only the IDF have tanks in the region, Haq said, “I think that’s a safe assumption to make, yes.”

He said the convoy was going to the European hospital as “there’s regular work that’s going on in terms of bringing people to different sites and this was part of that.”

When asked if Israel apologised to the UN and if the world body sees this as a deliberate attack, Haq said the case is “still under review”.

“We’ll see what the review results in,” he said, adding that “as the review proceeds, we’ll need to see what the precise nature of the circumstances were.”

The Permanent Mission of India to the UN had said in a post on X that it is “deeply saddened” by the loss of Col Waibhav Kale. “Our deepest condolences are with the family during this difficult time,” it said.

UN chief Guterres expressed sadness to learn of Kale’s death and injury to the other DSS staffer and condemned all attacks on UN personnel, calling for a full investigation.

Guterres sent his condolences to the family of the fallen staff member.

“With the conflict in Gaza continuing to take a heavy toll – not only on civilians but also on humanitarian workers – the Secretary-General reiterates his urgent appeal for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the release of all hostages,” Guterres said.

He said that more than 190 UN staff have been killed in Gaza.

“Humanitarian workers must be protected. I condemn all attacks on UN personnel and reiterate my urgent appeal for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire & the release of all hostages,” he said.

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