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

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United Nations, May 14 (PTI) A former Indian Army officer, who had joined one of the UN agencies three weeks ago, was killed in war-torn Rafah in Gaza, 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) recently, officials in New Delhi said on Tuesday.

Kale, who had commanded the 11 Jammu & Kashmir Rifles in Kashmir and had been an instructor at the army’s Infantry School in Mhow, 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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“Kale had joined as a security service coordinator with the UN three weeks ago. The former infantry officer decided to join the UN to pursue his career and also because he was keen on humanitarian mission work,” his brother-in-law Wing Commander Prashant Karde (Retd) told PTI in Mumbai.

He is survived by wife Amruta and two teenage children, Karde said.

“The last rites of the 46-year-old will be held in Pune in two days after his body is flown via Cairo. His mortal remains will land either in Mumbai or Pune depending on the availability of flights,” Karde, a senior commander with IndiGo, said.

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Kale had joined the Indian Army in 1998 and had also served as Contingent Chief Security Officer with the United Nations between 2009 and 2010, Karde said.

According to his LinkedIn profile, he earned 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.

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“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.

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.

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.” 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.” 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.” The Permanent Mission of India to the UN condoled Kale’s death with a post on X: “We are deeply saddened by the loss of Col Waibhav Kale, working for the UN Department of Safety and Security in Gaza. Our deepest condolences are with the family during this difficult time.” The 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.

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

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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.

Meanwhile, as his family awaited the mortal remains, Kale’s brother in law said, “Waibhav left the army three years ago and had settled in Pune. He hailed from Nagpur and had studied at the Somalwar High School there.” During his more than two decades-long career in the military, Kale served in the northeast and also at the Siachen glacier. He was a former deputy commander of Rashtriya Rifles in Kashmir and was part of counterintelligence and counter-terrorism operations, he said.

Kale’s brother Group Captain Vishal Kale is a senior officer in the Indian Air Force, and his cousin Colonel Amey Kale is also in the army. PTI YAS SKL VT RHL NPK AKJ NPK NPK

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