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Bodies of slain foreign aid workers taken out of Gaza

Ambulances carrying the bodies of staff members of the US-based aid group World Central Kitchen at Gaza's Rafah crossing with Egypt
— Gaza Strip (Palestinian Territories) (AFP)

The bodies of six foreign aid workers killed in an Israeli strike were on Wednesday taken out of Gaza to Egypt for repatriation, a security source said, as Israel faced a chorus of outrage over their deaths.

The Israeli military killed seven staff of the US-based food charity World Central Kitchen on Monday in an attack that UN chief Antonio Guterres labelled "unconscionable" and "an inevitable result of the way the war is being conducted".

Israeli bombardment killed seven staff of the US-based food charity World Central Kitchen on Monday

The remains of the six international staff, who were killed alongside one Palestinian colleague, were taken in ambulances to the Rafah crossing to Egypt, where they were handed over to representatives of their respective countries, the security source said on condition of anonymity.

Israel's armed forces chief Herzi Halevi called the attack a "grave mistake", which he blamed on night-time "misidentification", adding in a video message that "we are sorry for the unintentional harm to the members of WCK".

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged the "tragic case" would be investigated "right to the end", and President Isaac Herzog expressed his "deep sorrow and sincere apologies".

People gather around a car used by US-based aid group World Central Kitchen that was hit by a strike in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip

The seven deaths piled more pressure on Israel, whose war since the Hamas attack of October 7 has brought devastation and mass civilian casualties to Gaza, where the UN warns the population of 2.4 million is on the brink of famine.

US President Joe Biden said he was "outraged and heartbroken" by the deaths and charged that Israel "has not done enough to protect aid workers trying to deliver desperately needed help to civilians".

- 'Anger and concern' -

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he had voiced his "anger and concern" to Netanyahu, while Britain summoned the Israeli ambassador and demanded "full accountability".

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk wrote on X that "the tragic attack against volunteers and your (Israel's) reaction are generating an understandable anger".

The charity said it was mourning the loss of its seven "heroes" and "beautiful souls".

It said they had been killed in a "targeted attack" that was launched despite the group having coordinated its movements with Israeli forces.

A two-week Israeli operation around Gaza's biggest hospital, Al-Shifa, entirely flattened the medical complex and left scores dead

It named those killed as Palestinian Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, 25; Australian Lalzawmi (Zomi) Frankcom, 43; Britons John Chapman, 57, James (Jim) Henderson, 33, and James Kirby, 47; Pole Damian Sobol, 35; and US-Canadian Jacob Flickinger, 33.

After their deaths, the charity suspended operations and a ship that had carried food aid from Cyprus to Gaza turned back towards the Mediterranean island with around 240 tons of supplies that had not been unloaded.

Human Rights Watch said the attack "displays the characteristics of a precision airstrike", adding that it gave greater urgency to an International Criminal Court investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes in the Palestinian territories.

- Mass protests -

Anger at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's handling of the war has sparked nightly protests

The bloodiest-ever Gaza war erupted with Hamas's October 7 attack, which resulted in about 1,170 deaths of Israelis and foreigners, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Israel's retaliatory campaign has killed at least 32,975 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.

Palestinian militants took more than 250 hostages on October 7 and presently 130 remain in Gaza, including 34 who the army says are dead.

Talks for a ceasefire and hostage release deal have stalled, with Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh accusing Israel of procrastinating.

An Israeli army battle tank moves along the border with the Gaza Strip and southern Israel on April 2, 2024

Qatar, which is mediating the indirect talks, said Israel had objected to the demand to allow displaced Gazans to return to their homes.

On Wednesday, the army said its forces had "killed and apprehended a number of terrorists" in fighting near the Al-Amal Hospital in the southern city of Khan Yunis.

It followed a two-week operation around Gaza's biggest hospital, Al-Shifa, which destroyed much of the medical complex and left scores dead.

The families of the captives have staged four straight nights of mass protests, joined by a resurgent anti-government movement.

Benny Gantz, a leading rival to Netanyahu and a member of his war cabinet, on Wednesday called for early elections.

The UN Human Rights Council will on Friday consider a draft resolution calling for an arms embargo on Israel, citing the "plausible risk of genocide in Gaza".

The draft "condemns the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects by Israel in populated areas in Gaza" and of "the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare".

There are 47 countries serving on the Human Rights Council -- among them 18 states which brought forward the draft resolution. Twenty-four votes are needed for an outright majority, or possibly fewer if there are abstentions.

Israel has long accused the Human Rights Council of being biased against it.