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Ex-Indian Army officer with UN killed in Gaza, first international casualty since Israel-Hamas conflict

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Colonel Waibhav Anil Kale (Retd)

Col Waibhav Anil Kale

United Nations: A former Indian Army officer working with the United Nations was killed in Gaza when the vehicle he was travelling in came under attack in strife-torn Rafah, becoming the “first international casualty” for the world body since the Israel-Hamas conflict started last year.

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The United Nations has called for a full investigation while Israel has ordered a separate investigation into the attack.

Col Waibhav Anil Kale, 46, who took premature retirement from the Indian Army in 2022, joined the UN as a Security Coordination Officer in the United Nations Department of Safety and Security (DSS) two months ago, officials in New Delhi said on Tuesday.

Kale, who had served with the 11 Jammu & Kashmir Rifles, was travelling along with another DSS staffer to the European Hospital in Rafah when their UN vehicle was struck on Monday morning. The other person, not identified, was seriously injured.

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According to Kale’s LinkedIn profile, he had joined the Indian Army in April 2004 and had also served as Contingent Chief Security Officer with the United Nations between 2009 and 2010. He did his B.A. from the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi and had degrees in Behavioral Science and International Humanitarian Law and had studied at, among other institutions, the Indian Institute of Management at Lucknow and Indore.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was “deeply saddened to learn of the death of a United Nations Department of Safety and Security (DSS) staff member and injury to another DSS staffer.” A statement by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General, said that Guterres condemned all attacks on UN personnel and called 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 for the release of all hostages,” the statement added.

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In a post on X, Guterres said the UN vehicle was struck in Gaza, “killing one of our colleagues & injuring another” and said, more than 190 UN staff have been killed in Gaza.

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Responding to questions on the incident during a press briefing, Haq said at this point, “We are in the process of informing the relevant governments and the relevant family members..."

He added that they were “international staff” and confirmed that “this is, in fact, the first international UN casualty.” While there have been international casualties involving workers for the World Central Kitchen in Gaza, Haq said that “of UN staff, I believe I've not been previously aware of an international casualty.”

Haq added that the vehicle was headed to the hospital “as part of their regular work. They go to different locations to assess security conditions. And this was the European hospital in Rafah.”

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When asked for details about how their vehicle was struck, Haq said “We're still accumulating details. We expect to get reports, including from the relevant authorities.”

He added that close to 190 UN personnel have been killed in Gaza since October 7, “most of them national staff of the UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA.”

Haq added that the UN is “going to set up measures for accountability. A lot of that… ultimately requires an end to the conflict so that we can work these out, but we will be working with the authorities on the ground to get restitution for all of those who have been killed.”

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Haq said he did not have the full details of whether the vehicle that was struck was part of a large convoy. “I believe it was in a convoy that was moving, and this was the DSS vehicle that was hit.”

BBC reported that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) confirmed it had received a report from the UN Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS) that said two of its workers were injured in the Rafah area - in southern Gaza - on Monday.

The IDF added that the incident was under review, it said.

Director-General of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a post on X, “We are devastated to learn about the death” of a UN humanitarian worker and injury of another in Gaza.

“Too many civilian and humanitarian lives have paid the price for this war. Ceasefire and work towards peace,” the WHO chief said.

In April, seven members of the World Central Kitchen were killed in an IDF strike in Gaza. One of those killed in the airstrike was Zomi Frankcom, an Australian of Indian descent, according to reports.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that between October 7, 2023, and May 12, 2024, at least 35,091 Palestinians have been killed and 78,827 injured in Gaza.

More than 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals, including 33 children, were killed in Israel, the vast majority on October 7, when Hamas attacked Israel.

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