World Central Kitchen suspends aid operations in Gaza after Israel kills six of its staff

Tuesday 2 Apr 2024

An Israeli airstrike killed six international aid workers with the World Central Kitchen charity and their Palestinian driver, the aid group said Tuesday, as they were delivering food from its latest shipment to Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been pushed to the brink of famine by Israel’s offensive.

A man displays blood-stained British, Polish, and Australian passports after an Israeli airstrike, i
A man displays blood-stained British, Polish, and Australian passports after an Israeli airstrike, in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip, Monday, April 1, 2024. AP


Footage showed the bodies of the dead at a hospital in the central Gaza town of Deir al-Balah. Several of them wore protective gear with the charity’s logo.

Those killed include three from Britain, one from Australia, one from Poland, and a U.S. and Canadian dual citizen, according to hospital records.

The source of the fire late Monday could not be independently confirmed. The Israeli military said it was conducting a review “to understand the circumstances of this tragic incident.”

The food charity founded by celebrity chef José Andrés said it was suspending its operations in the region.

The strike marked a potentially major setback to efforts to deliver aid by sea as Israel heavily restricts access to northern Gaza, where experts say famine is imminent.

“The WCK team was travelling in a deconflicted zone in two armored cars branded with the WCK logo and a soft skin vehicle,” the charity said in a statement.

“Despite coordinating movements with the (Israeli army), the convoy was hit as it was leaving the Deir al-Balah warehouse, where the team had unloaded more than 100 tons of humanitarian food aid brought to Gaza on the maritime route.”

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

Three aid ships from the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus arrived earlier Monday carrying 400 tons of food and supplies organized by the charity and the United Arab Emirates, the group’s second shipment after a pilot run last month. The Israeli military was involved in coordinating both deliveries.

The U.S. has touted the sea route as a new way to deliver desperately needed aid to northern Gaza, where the U.N. has said much of the population is on the brink of starvation, largely cut off from the rest of the territory by Israeli forces. Israel has barred UNRWA, the main U.N. agency in Gaza, from making deliveries to the north, and other aid groups say sending truck convoys north has been too dangerous because the military failed to ensure safe passage.

The UNRWA said in its latest report that 173 of its workers have been killed in Gaza. The figure does not include workers for other aid organizations.

The bodies of the aid workers have been taken to a hospital in the southern city of Rafah on the Egyptian border, according to an Associated Press reporter at the hospital. The foreigners’ bodies will be evacuated out of Gaza and the Palestinian driver’s body will be handed to his family in Rafah for burial.

World Central Kitchen board member Robert Egger and the media reported that the Australian killed in Monday night’s strike was 44-year-old Zomi Frankcom from Melbourne.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was urgently seeking to confirm reports of an Australian death.

In a statement, the department said: “We have been clear on the need for civilian lives to be protected in this conflict.”

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said Tuesday that he had asked the Israeli ambassador to Poland for "urgent explanations" after an Israeli strike killed seven aid workers in Gaza, including a Polish citizen.

"I personally asked the Israeli ambassador Yacov Livne for urgent explanations," Sikorski said on social media, adding that he had offered "condolences to the family of our brave volunteer" and saying Poland would open its own inquiry into the aid worker's death.

At least 32,845 Palestinians have been killed, around two-thirds of them women and children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.

Aid groups have repeatedly called for a humanitarian cease-fire, saying it's the only way to reach people in need.

The United States, Qatar, and Egypt have spent months trying to broker a cease-fire but the indirect talks between Israel and Hamas remain bogged down.

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