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Three British aid workers among seven killed in Israeli strike in Gaza, World Central Kitchen confirms

In World
April 02, 2024

An apparent Israeli airstrike has killed seven people working for a humanitarian aid organisation in central Gaza, the charity World Central Kitchen said on Tuesday, with three British citizens among the dead.

The group were killed on Gaza’s coastal road in Deir Balah, central Gaza, on Monday night, health officials and a journalist at Al-Aqsa hospital, where the bodies were taken, told The Independent.

They sent videos showing the mangled bodies of five individuals, some of them wearing protective gear with the logo of World Central Kitchen charity, which was founded by celebrity chef José Andrés.

The videos also showed some of the dead individuals’ passports. The hospital source said the foreign aid workers hailed from Britain, Australia, and Poland, while World Central Kitchen said a joint US-Canadian citizen and a number of Palestinians were also killed.

WCK said its convoy was hit despite the charity coordinating on its movements with the Israeli military, and the fact that two of the cars hit were clearly marked as aid vehicles.

“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,” said Erin Gore, chief executive of World Central Kitchen.

“This is unforgivable.”

Gaza’s government media office identified one of the dead as a Palestinian driver.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told Al Jazeera it was aware of the “distressing” incident but said it was unable to comment further because of “privacy obligations.”

The Independent has contacted the Israeli embassies of Britain, Australia and Poland.

A Palestinian aid worker in Deir Balah who knew the group of aid workers told The Independent they were returning from coordinating the distribution of 400 tonnes of food aid that arrived earlier that day via a new sea route from Cyprus to a pier that WCK had recently built. The aid worker asked not to be named for security reasons.

WCK told The Independent the deaths were a “tragedy”.

“I am heartbroken and grieving for their families and friends and our whole WCK family,” Mr Andrés wrote in a statement on X on Monday. “These are people…angels…I served alongside in Ukraine, Gaza, Turkey, Morocco, Bahamas, Indonesia.

“They are not faceless… they are not nameless. The Israeli government needs to stop this indiscriminate killing. It needs to stop restricting humanitarian aid, stop killing civilians and aid workers, and stop using food as a weapon. No more innocent lives lost. Peace starts with our shared humanity. It needs to start now.”

The Israeli military did not confirm or deny the reports of the strike and said it had launched an investigation.

“Following the reports regarding the World Central Kitchen personnel in Gaza today, the IDF is conducting a thorough review at the highest levels to understand the circumstances of this tragic incident,” it said.

“The IDF makes extensive efforts to enable the safe delivery of humanitarian aid, and has been working closely with WCK in their vital efforts to provide food and humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza.”

Civilians in Deir al-Balah told The Independent there was a wave of airstrikes in the area on Monday evening hitting the coastal road, a main access point to North Gaza, and a mosque.

This is not the first time Israel has been accused of bombing humanitarian aid convoys and distribution centres. The United Nations’ Palestinian Refugee Agency said a tank shell hit one of its aid convoys in February and a supply distribution centre in March.

Last month WCK facilitated a shipment carrying 200 tonnes of aid in a pilot run. The Israeli military was involved in coordinating both deliveries.

The alleged strike came hours after Israeli troops ended a devastating two-week raid on Gaza’s largest hospital – al Shifa – leaving the facility a torched, gutted shell, and a swath of destruction in the surrounding neighbourhoods.

Footage showed Shifa’s main buildings had been reduced to a charred mess, with what looked like flattened bodies and body parts smashed in the ground, which had been chewed up by bulldozers.

Israel claimed it launched the raid on Shifa because senior Hamas operatives had regrouped there and were planning attacks. After the troops withdrew, hundreds of Palestinians returned to search for lost loved ones or examine the damage – with Palestinian journalists reporting people had been killed by Israeli soldiers.

Among the dead were Ahmed Maqadma and his mother — both doctors at Shifa — and his cousin, said Dr Ghassan Abu Sitta, a Palestinian-British doctor who volunteered at Shifa and other hospitals during the first months of the war before returning to Britain.

The fate of the three had been unknown since they talked by phone with family as they tried to leave Shifa nearly a week ago and the line suddenly went dead. On Monday, relatives found their bodies with gunshot wounds about a block from the hospital, said Abu Sitta, who is in touch with the family.

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