Deadly strikes on World Central Kitchen aid workers shock Gaza medics

Attack inflames tensions with west amid reports that military officers 'do whatever they want' in enclave

The three vehicles hit in the Israeli strikes in Deir Al Balah were each marked with the World Central Kitchen logo. AP
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The deaths of foreign aid workers in Israeli strikes on a World Central Kitchen convoy in Gaza shocked medics who attended the scene.

Three UK citizens, one from Poland, one Australian and one American-Canadian citizen were killed in the attack on three vehicles in Deir Al Balah, central Gaza. A Palestinian was also among the dead.

A video sent to The National showed Palestine Red Crescent Society medics arriving at the scene of the strikes to discover foreign citizens were among the victims.

Mahmoud Thabet said he was at the PRCS headquarters in the city at the time of the attack. “We actually heard the strike that hit the vehicles,” he said.

The PRCS received a call about the strikes at 10.25pm and arrived at the site five minutes later. Mr Thabet said the team found one vehicle on fire, with nobody inside.

Four bodies were found in the second car, he said. The victims died instantly, he added.

Hassan Al Shorbaji, a Palestinian civilian displaced from Beit Lahia to Deir Al Balah, said he was part of a group that discovered belongings left in one of the cars, after the bodies had been removed.

"Around midnight, we heard the sound of an explosion and we went to investigate the source of the noise," he told The National. "We saw that the vehicle of the World Central Kitchen had been hit by a small rocket but it was empty, as the individuals who were inside it had already been removed.

"The vehicle caught fire and we attempted to extinguish it, but we were unsuccessful.

"Before the fire started, we observed the contents of the vehicle and found canned food, books and brochures belonging to the relief association. It is obvious the Israeli occupation is targeting any relief [to] Gaza [that] could help people."

Israel says vehicles 'misidentified'

On Wednesday, Israel's army chief apologised for the strikes, saying the civilians were “misidentified” by the military.

The World Central Kitchen workers were killed in Deir Al Balah as they departed a warehouse filled with food aid.

“This incident was a grave mistake,” army chief Herzi Halevi said in a video message. “I want to be very clear – the strike was not carried out with the intention of harming WCK aid workers.

“It was a mistake that followed a misidentification, at night during a war in very complex conditions. It shouldn’t have happened.”

He apologised for the “unintentional harm” caused to the US-based aid group, founded by celebrity chef Jose Andres.

Israeli media reports suggest the three aid vehicles, which were marked with the WCK logo, were hit as a result of poor co-ordination within the military. The vehicles were hit in separate strikes over a stretch of coastal road deemed a “safe zone” by Israel.

The strikes occurred after an Israeli military unit identified an “armed man” in a lorry that travelled with the aid workers to a warehouse in Deir Al Balah, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported. The unit was aware the armed man did not leave the warehouse, it said.

The cars travelled along a coastal route approved by the army. After the first car was hit by a missile, passengers ran to the other vehicles and notified the army of the attack.

A missile struck the second car and then the third vehicle was hit. It was carrying the aid workers injured in the initial strikes.

The final attack is believed to have happened about 1.5km from the first strike.

Army sources told Haaretz that military officers in Gaza “can do whatever they want”.

Every commander “sets the rules for himself” and develops their own interpretation of the rules of engagement required in armed combat, it reported a source as saying.

Relations 'put to the test'

The strikes have inflamed diplomatic tensions between Israel and the countries whose citizens were killed. The UK summoned Israeli ambassador Tzipi Hotovely and demanded “full accountability” over the attack that killed three Britons, all army veterans.

Australia also called for accountability and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk warned relations with Israel were being “put to the test”.

US President Joe Biden said he was outraged by the attack and accused Israel of failing to protect aid workers and civilians. While Washington has continued to provide support to Israel during the Gaza war, relations are strained, particularly over Israel's insistence on invading the southern city of Rafah.

World Central Kitchen and other aid groups have halted operations in Gaza as a result of the strikes.

American Near East Refugee Aid, which worked with WCK and runs six community kitchens across southern Gaza, said the risk of delivering aid in the enclave “is far too great”.

The move comes as famine spreads across northern Gaza, killing at least 30 people in what remain of the enclave's struggling hospitals.

Malnutrition among children is spreading at a “record pace”, the World Food Programme warned on Wednesday. It said one in three children under the age of two were acutely malnourished.

Amal Fawzi, a 35-year-old woman who used to feed her children with the food distributed by WCK, is concerned about how she will now secure food for them.

"My son used to go to their food distribution point and he would return with food for his siblings to eat," she explained.

Ms Fawzi is now living in a tent in Deir Al Balah after her house was destroyed in Gaza, resulting in the loss of her husband.

"I have no source of income and no money to purchase food for my children," she said. "I hope they resume their operations and distribute food to us."

Hala Aboud, a 38-year-old who has been displaced from Gaza city to Khan Younis then to Rafah, received a box of cooked food from WCK and was grateful for the assistance, especially considering the scarcity of cooking gas and electricity.

"These food boxes alleviate some of the pressure on the family provider by offering cooked and canned food," she said.

Updated: April 03, 2024, 3:31 PM