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Humanitarian groups suspend Gaza operations after Israeli strike kills 7 aid workers

World Central Kitchen, a US-based charitable organization, said seven of its workers were killed in an Israeli strike in central Gaza. Israel said the incident is under investigation.
People gather around the carcass of a car used by US-based aid group World Central Kitchen.

An American food charity said on Tuesday that seven of its workers were killed in an Israeli strike in Gaza, prompting Israel to take responsibility and announce a formal investigation of the incident amid outrage from international officials.

What happened: World Central Kitchen said its team members were traveling in a convoy of two armored vehicles with the organization’s logo and a non-armored vehicle. The convoy was hit while leaving a warehouse in Deir al-Balah, located in central Gaza, on Monday evening. The World Central Kitchen said that Israel was responsible for the attack and the convoy had coordinated its movements with the Israeli military, according to a press release from the charity.

“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,” said World Central Kitchen CEO Erin Gore, per the release.

The seven dead workers were Australian, British, Palestinian, Polish and dual US-Canadian citizens, according to the organization.

World Central Kitchen did not say when the strike occurred. Reports that foreign aid workers were killed in a strike emerged early Tuesday morning local time.

Images purportedly showing the aftermath of the strike circulated on social media. The Hamas-affiliated Shehab news agency published a video showing a vehicle with the World Central Kitchen logo on it. A hole on top of the vehicle is visible in the footage. 

In a post on X on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged Israeli forces hit non-combatants. 

"Unfortunately, in the past day there was a tragic event in which our forces unintentionally harmed non-combatants in the Gaza Strip. This happens in war," he said. "We are conducting a thorough inquiry and are in contact with the governments. We will do everything to prevent a recurrence."

In another statement on Tuesday, Israeli military spokesperson Daniel Hagari expressed his “deepest condolences” over the workers’ deaths, and said he spoke to World Central Kitchen founder and known chef Jose Andres. Hagari promised an investigation.

“We have been reviewing the incident at the highest levels to understand the circumstances of what happened and how it happened. We will be opening a probe to examine this serious incident further,” said Hagari.

Hagari additionally called World Central Kitchen’s work in Gaza “vital,” and praised the organization for helping Israelis after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack. He did not give a timeline for the investigation, only saying the findings would be shared “transparently.”

Israeli news outlet Haaretz reported that the Israeli military struck the World Central Kitchen convoy on the suspicion that an armed Hamas operative had joined them. The operative was believed to be on a truck, but the truck did not leave the warehouse. The convoy of three cars was hit three times after leaving the warehouse, the outlet reported, citing security sources. 

World Central Kitchen provides food aid in crisis-struck areas. It operates in Gaza, Israel, Lebanon and other countries around the world. In addition to the Gaza war, World Central Kitchen has responded to the war in Ukraine and the unrest in Haiti recently. The organization said on Tuesday it is immediately pausing operations in the region and will soon decide about the future of its work there.

Why it matters: World Central Kitchen was delivering food assistance in Gaza at the time of the strike. The organization's second maritime aid shipment left Cyprus on Saturday, carrying enough food to provide more than 1 million meals. World Central Kitchen had already delivered nearly 200 tons of food aid by sea at the time, according to its website. 

Under the auspices of the United States, the European Union and other international partners, a maritime aid corridor from Cyprus to Gaza was set up last month.

International organizations have been warning about dangerous levels of food insecurity in the enclave. World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last month that "only the expansion of land crossings will enable large scale deliveries to prevent famine" in Gaza. 

Aid to Gaza could be further jeopardized by the killing of the World Central Kitchen workers. In addition to the organization pausing operations, Axios reported on Tuesday that the United Arab Emirates is suspending its participation in the Cyprus corridor until Israel guarantees aid workers will be protected. 

Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said on Tuesday that deliveries would continue.

The death of the World Central Kitchen workers demonstrates the dangers of delivering aid in Gaza. In late February, Gaza authorities said more than 110 people were killed when Israeli forces fired on people collecting flour. The Israeli military said they fired after perceiving a threat and blamed most of the deaths on crowds that swarmed the aid trucks, Reuters reported at the time. 

Last week, 12 Gazans drowned off the northern Gaza coast while trying to retrieve aid that had been airdropped into the sea. Six others were stampeded to death while waiting for aid.

Israel has been accused of preventing sufficient aid from entering Gaza. The UN's top human rights official, Volker Turk, told the BBC last week that there is a "plausible" case Israel is using starvation as a weapon of war.

Reactions: The incident drew reactions from the countries of the victims on Tuesday. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for an investigation. 

"We've spoken directly to the Israeli government about this particular incident. We've urged a swift, a thorough and impartial investigation," he told reporters.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said in a statement that he held a call with his Israeli counterpart, Israel Katz, during which he called for an investigation.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron posted on X that the incident is “deeply distressing,” adding that the United Kingdom called on Israel to “immediately investigate and provide a full, transparent explanation.”

Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in a statement that Canberra condemns the strike and calls for an investigation. Wong identified the Australian victim as Lalzawmi "Zomi" Frankcom.

Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said on X that Canada likewise condemns the strike and calls for an investigation.

In the region, Jordan’s King Abdullah II said he expressed his condolences to Andres over the deaths, though he refrained from immediately blaming Israel.

“Deepest condolences to Jose Andres and the World Central Kitchen over the tragic death of their team members while delivering urgent food aid to Gazans. We thank you for your sacrifice and humanity. Humanitarian agencies must be protected in Gaza,” the king posted on X.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi was more forceful in his remarks, calling the workers’ deaths “cold blooded murder” at the hands of “Israeli occupation forces in Gaza” in a post on X.

Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid said in a statement that Egypt “strongly condemns” the strike.

“Egypt confirms its total rejection and condemnation of Israel’s continued targeting of humanitarian organizations,” said Abu Zeid.