World Central Kitchen workers killed by Israeli strikes in Gaza honoured in US ceremony

Dozens of mourners gather at Washington National Cathedral for interfaith 'celebration of life'

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The seven World Central Kitchen aid workers killed in Israeli air strikes in Gaza this month were honoured on Thursday in a sombre ceremony in Washington.

Dozens of mourners gathered at the Washington National Cathedral, a neo-Gothic landmark in the US capital, for the interfaith “celebration of life”.

Inside the church, screens showed pictures of those killed: Palestinian Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha; dual US-Canadian citizen Jacob Flickinger; Australian Lalzawmi Frankcom; Polish citizen Damian Sobol and three Britons John Chapman, James Kirby and James Henderson.

Jose Andres, the celebrity chef and philanthropist who founded the aid organisation, addressed the service, speaking about each of the volunteers, his voice cracking at times.

“They were the best of humanity,” Mr Andres said.

“There is no excuse for these killings, none," he said. "The official explanation is not good enough. We still demand an independent investigation."

A Catholic priest, a rabbi and an imam prayed and read scriptures, and the cathedral choir sang hymns. Famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma also performed.

Charity boss Jose Andres says Israel targeted staff in Gaza – video

Charity boss Jose Andres says Israel targeted staff in Gaza

Charity boss Jose Andres says Israel targeted staff in Gaza

About 560 people were in attendance, including families of victims and organisation staff. Second gentleman Doug Emhoff, assistant deputy secretary of state Kurt Campbell, and Democratic senator Chris Van Hollen were among those attending.

The seven aid workers were killed on April 1 in Israeli drone strikes on their convoy, which was on a food delivery mission in the Gaza Strip.

Israel apologised and, after a swift investigation, said the army had attacked the convoy after mistakenly perceiving it to be carrying members of an armed group.

The killings sparked global outrage and prompted a threat from President Joe Biden that US support for Israel could change unless more is done to address the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Gaza.

According to the UN, 224 aid workers have been killed in Gaza since the war began.

Mr Andres said Israel's invasion of the Gaza Strip was no longer “a war against terror” but a “war against humanity itself”.

More than 34,300 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since October 7, according to local health authorities, after Hamas attacked Israel, killing 1,200.

A famine is looming amid continued restrictions on the entry of humanitarian aid. After the attack, the World Central Kitchen suspended its operations in Gaza.

“Food is a universal human right,” Mr Andres said. "Feeding each other, cooking and eating together, is what makes us human."

“Food can never be a weapon of war. Humanitarians must never be targets.”

The Biden administration has for months been urging Israel to enable the entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza. It has also been trying to broker a ceasefire of at least six weeks during which hostages can be released and Palestinians can return to their homes.

But Mr Biden, who is running for re-election, has also been steadfast in his support for Israel.

His administration has provided military, political and diplomatic support for Israel during the war, now in its seventh month, even as the death toll continues to rise.

Updated: April 25, 2024, 6:24 PM