Aid to Gaza threatened after Israeli strike forces World Central Kitchen to pause work

Israel says it is conducting a thorough inquiry into the strike that killed seven aid workers

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Desperately needed food aid delivery to the besieged Gaza enclave is under threat after an Israeli air strike on Deir Al Balah killed seven World Central Kitchen aid workers, forcing the non-profit and at least one other NGO supplying food assistance in Gaza, to pause its operations.

World Central Kitchen said it was pausing operations “immediately in the region” and that they would be making a decision about any future work in due course.

American Near East Refugee Aid on Tuesday announced that it would suspend its operations in Gaza after the strike on the World Central Kitchen aid convoy.

“As it stands, currently delivering aid puts not just humanitarian workers at risk but also those who are receiving the aid,” it said.

“Our team in Gaza has determined that at this point the risk of actively delivering aid is far too great.” Anera focuses on delivering humanitarian relief items, including food.

Anera said the pause would continue while staff “feel unsafe doing their work” and placed responsibility on Israel “to ensure the safety of humanitarian aid workers”.

Cyprus said on Tuesday afternoon that ships that had arrived in Gaza were turning back with 240 tonnes of undelivered aid.

Cypriot Foreign Ministry spokesman Theodoros Gotsis said that about 100 tonnes of aid had been unloaded before World Central Kitchen suspended operations after its workers were killed.

Sources confirmed to The National that the second aid boat has been sent back.

Israel said it was conducting a thorough investigation into the air strike. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that forces “unintentionally” killed aid workers in Gaza.

“Unfortunately, in the past day there was a tragic event in which our forces unintentionally harmed non-combatants in the Gaza Strip,” Mr Netanyahu said on X.

“This happens in war. We are conducting a thorough inquiry and are in contact with the governments. We will do everything to prevent a recurrence.

The WCK team was killed while travelling through a deconflicted zone in armoured vehicles branded with their logo.

The seven victims were from Australia, Poland, the UK and Palestine, as well as a dual citizen from the US and Canada.

This is not only an attack against WCK, this is an attack on humanitarian organisations showing up in the most dire of situations where food is being used as a weapon of war. This is unforgivable
Erin Gore, World Central Kitchen chief executive

The group was hit while leaving a warehouse in Deir Al Balah despite co-ordinating its movements with the Israeli military, the organisation said.

The convoy was struck by three separate missiles fired one after the other, according to Israeli outlet Haaretz.

“This is not only an attack against WCK, this is an attack on humanitarian organisations showing up in the most dire of situations where food is being used as a weapon of war. This is unforgivable,” said chief executive Erin Gore.

The organisation posted an image and statement mourning the aid workers lost in the strike.

World Central Kitchen named the "heroes" as: Relief team members Palestinian Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, Australian Lalzawmi "Zomi" Frankcom, Damian Sobol of Poland, US-Canada dual citizen Jacob Flickinger, and security team members John Chapman, James Henderson and Jams Kirby, all of the UK.

Cyprus vowed on Tuesday to maintain its Gaza maritime aid corridor despite the attack.

“The tragic events should not discourage us. We must double down on our efforts to provide more assistance as the needs dramatically escalate”, said Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides at an aid co-ordination centre in the port city of Larnaca.

Government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis said that the deadly strike would not affect the initiative, but that “re-co-ordination will need to take place” due to security concerns.

The UAE and Cyprus have expressed their “profound condemnation” of the strike. The two countries denounced all acts of violence against humanitarian workers and reiterated that strikes against aid staff are a breach of international law. Through the Amalthea Initiative, the countries aim to provide urgent humanitarian aid and supplies to Gazans.

The British Foreign Minister confirmed that it had summoned the Israeli ambassador over the deaths of aid workers in Gaza.

“I set out the Government's unequivocal condemnation of the appalling killing of seven World Central Kitchen aid workers, including three British Nationals,” Britain's Minister for Development and Africa, Andrew Mitchell, said.

“I requested a quick and transparent investigation, shared with the international community, and full accountability.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington had told Israel to conduct a “thorough and impartial” investigation into the deadly strike.

“We’ve spoken directly to the Israeli Government about this particular incident,” Mr Blinken said during a visit to France.

“We've arranged a swift and thorough and impartial investigation to understand exactly what happened. We've pressed upon the Israelis the absolute imperative of doing more to protect innocent civilian lives”.

US President Joe Biden called World Central Kitchen founder and celebrity chef Jose Andres after the deadly strike, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said.

“He called the chef Jose Andres to express that he's heart-broken by this news of the air strike that killed seven aid workers and to express his deepest condolences,” she said.

“President Biden conveyed his grieving with the entire World Central Kitchen family.”

Ms Jean-Pierre also said that Mr Biden “will make clear to Israel that humanitarian aid workers must be protected”.

France's Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne “strongly condemned” the incident.

“Protecting humanitarian workers is a moral and legal imperative that everyone must adhere to,” Mr Sejourne said at a press conference, alongside Mr Blinken. “Nothing justifies such a tragedy.”

Seven aid workers were killed in Israeli air strike on Gaza

Seven aid workers were killed in Israeli air strike on Gaza

Bloodied passports were seen on the bodies of those killed, wearing WCK-branded vests, in footage posted to social media on Monday night.

The organisation said bodies were retrieved by the Palestinian Red Crescent after a “challenging operation spanning several hours”.

All seven are now being taken to the Rafah border crossing.

A funeral was held on Tuesday for Issam Abu Taha, a Palestinian employee of World Central Kitchen.

Australia's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed Australian citizen Lalzawmi Franckom was among the dead.

“This is completely unacceptable. Australia expects full accountability for the deaths of aid workers,” Mr Albanese said, before offering his “sincere condolences” to her family.

Poland also confirmed one of its citizens, who has not been publicly identified, was killed in the attack.

“Poland objects to the disregard for international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians, including humanitarian workers,” the country's Foreign Ministry said on X.

The UK said it is “urgently seeking further information” on the British citizen killed in the strike.

“We haven't had it confirmed yet, but we are very, very concerned by the situation,” Education Secretary Gillian Keegan told the BBC.

“One of the key things is trying to ensure we get more aid into Gaza, so if one of the charities working on the ground has suspended [operations], then that's obviously deeply concerning.”

British Foreign Minister David Cameron on Tuesday said the death of aid workers, including at least one British citizen, was “deeply distressing” and called on Israel to investigate and provide an explanation.

“British Nationals are reported to have been killed, we are urgently working to verify this information and will provide full support to their families,” Lord Cameron said on X.

The UAE's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday said it held Israel “fully responsible for this dangerous development” and demanded an “urgent, independent and transparent investigation into what happened”.

In a statement, the ministry offered its condolences to the victims’ families and their countries and stressed the need to immediately stop violence and avoid targeting civilians, while demanding not to use food as a weapon.

Jordan's King Abdullah has also sent his condolences to WCK over the “tragic deaths”.

“We thank you for your sacrifice and humanity,” he said on X.

Videos shared on social media by WCK showed how victims of the strike had worked at a kitchen in Deir Al Balah last week, preparing thousands of meals for locals.

Australian aid worker killed in Israeli air strike on Gaza

Australian aid worker killed in Israeli air strike on Gaza

The non-profit group said the space was being expanded to provide for more families in central Gaza.

WCK is one of two charities organising humanitarian aid to Gaza through a maritime corridor as famine spreads across the enclave.

It worked with Open Arms to send the first aid ship from Cyprus last month.

The team had delivered 100 tonnes of food aid brought through the corridor shortly before their convoy was hit, the NGO said.

The pause in operations comes shortly after the UN warned famine is imminent in Gaza, where more than 32,800 people have been killed since October.

At least 30 people, mostly children, have died of starvation in recent weeks, Gaza's health authorities said.

The Cypriot Foreign Ministry has called for a “swift and conclusive” investigation into the strike, saying international humanitarian law is “absolute”.

“Humanitarian aid workers must always be respected and protected,” it said.

Additional reporting from Gillian Duncan in London

Updated: April 03, 2024, 8:51 AM