Published On: Tue, Apr 2nd, 2024

World Central Kitchen says Israeli strike kills 7 workers, halts aid operations

World Central Kitchen says Israeli strike kills 7 workers, halts aid operations
World Central Kitchen says Israeli strike kills 7 workers, halts aid operations

The disaster relief charity World Central Kitchen said Tuesday that seven of its aid workers were killed in an Israeli air strike in the Gaza Strip, placing the future of aid deliveries to the Palestinian enclave in peril.

The U.S.-based nonprofit, founded by celebrity chef José Andrés, said it was immediately pausing its operations in the region, a major setback for efforts to get food into Gaza by sea and bring much-needed relief to a population that has been pushed to the brink of starvation by the Israel-Hamas war.

Andrés said he was “heartbroken and grieving” for his colleagues who were killed.

“The Israeli government needs to stop this indiscriminate killing,” Andrés wrote on X. “It needs to stop restricting humanitarian aid, stop killing civilians and aid workers, and stop using food as a weapon.”

The Israel Defense Forces did not immediately confirm that it was responsible for the deaths, and said in a statement that it was conducting “a thorough review at the highest levels to understand the circumstances of this tragic incident.” It added that it had been working closely with the World Central Kitchen in their efforts to provide aid to people in Gaza.

The IDF later said that it would be opening a probe into the incident. “This will help us reduce the risk of such an event from occurring again,” IDF spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari  said in a video statement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made comments as he left a hospital on Tuesday. “Unfortunately, in the last day there was a tragic case of our forces unintentionally hitting innocent people in the Gaza Strip,” Netanyahu said.

“It happens in war, we check it to the end, we are in contact with the governments, and we will do everything so that this thing does not happen again.”

It was not immediately clear whether Netanyahu was referring to the strike on the World Central Kitchen aid workers.

Follow live updates here.

Western employees of international aid organization killed in Israeli attack on Gaza
A hole is blasted through the roof of a World Central Kitchen vehicle after a deadly strike in Deir al-Balah, Gaza on April 2, 2024. Ali Jadallah / Anadolu via Getty Images

The charity said that its team had coordinated its movements with the Israeli military and was traveling in a “deconflicted zone” in two armored cars branded with the World Central Kitchen logo and a soft skin vehicle.

Photographs from the site of the strike provided by international news agencies showed one of the three cars that staff were moving in completely burned out by the roadside. Another car had a large hole in its roof, directly through a World Central Kitchen logo.

World Central Kitchen said its convoy was hit as it was leaving a warehouse in the Deir al-Balah area of central Gaza, where the team had unloaded more than 100 tons of humanitarian food aid that the charity had brought to Gaza by sea earlier in the day. The first such ship reached the enclave last month, as part of a new U.S.-backed effort to increase the flow of aid to northern Gaza, where aid agencies say Israel’s bombardment and blocking of relief efforts by land has left hundreds of thousands of people facing a possible famine.

Those killed were six international aid workers — a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada, and team members from Britain, Australia and Poland — and a Palestinian driver. The charity did not release their identities.

World Central Kitchen Gaza
Relatives and friends mourned the deaths as they gathered in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday.Said Khatib / AFP via Getty Images
World Central Kitchen Aid Worker Funeral
The body of a staff member of the U.S.-based aid group was carried through the streets of Rafah during his funeral.Said Khatib / AFP – Getty Images

The U.S. led calls for a swift probe into the incident.

“We are heartbroken and deeply troubled by the strike,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said on X. “Humanitarian aid workers must be protected as they deliver aid that is desperately needed, and we urge Israel to swiftly investigate what happened,” she added.

Australia condemned the strike and demanded accountability for the death of its citizen, which it named as Lalzawmi “Zomi” Frankcom. Her family paid tribute to “our brave and beloved Zomi” who it said had been killed “doing the work she loves.” Poland also decried what it said was a “disregard for international humanitarian law,” and the U.K. said the news was “deeply distressing” as it called on Israel to “provide a full, transparent explanation of what happened.”

World Central Kitchen CEO Erin Gore said the strike was “unforgivable,” describing it as an “attack on humanitarian organizations showing up in the most dire of situations where food is being used as a weapon of war.”

World Central Kitchen vehicles struck in Gaza
People gathered Tuesday around the carcass of one of the cars that was hit by the strike in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip.AFP via Getty Images

The charity said last week that it had served 42 million meals in 175 days of its operations in Gaza. Its suspension of those deliveries in the wake of Monday’s incident will add new uncertainty to international efforts to increase the flow of aid to northern Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of civilians are largely cut off from the outside world.

Since launching its operation in Gaza after the Hamas-led terror attack on Oct. 7, which killed more than 1,200 people, Israel has maintained a blockade and tightly controlled land crossings into the enclave, where the population of more than 2 million faces dire shortages of water and food, and is now on the brink of what the United Nations has said is an imminent famine.

More than 32,900 people have been killed in Gaza since the war began, according to local health officials, with many more feared buried under the rubble and presumed dead.

Washington, Israel’s closest ally, has been pushing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to increase the flow of aid to Gaza, and has been airdropping humanitarian aid since last month.

President Joe Biden announced in his State of the Union address that he had directed an emergency mission to build a temporary pier off the coast of Gaza to enable ships to deliver humanitarian supplies by sea.

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