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DC-Based Aid Group Pauses Gaza Operations After Israeli Strike Kills 7 Workers

World Central Kitchen has collected and delivered hundreds of tons of food to Gaza in recent weeks.

A view of a damaged vehicle after an Israeli attack that killed seven staff members of the humanitarian organization World Central Kitchen, in Deir al-Balah, Gaza, on April 2, 2024.

World Central Kitchen said Tuesday that a targeted Israeli airstrike killed seven members of its aid team in Gaza as they left a warehouse in the city of Deir al-Balah, where they had just unloaded more than 100 tons of food set to be distributed to starving Palestinians.

The Washington, D.C.-based aid organization said the seven killed included a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada as well as Australian, Polish, and British nationals and one Palestinian staffer later identified as Saif Abu Taha.

“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,” Erin Gore, the group’s CEO, said in a statement. “This is unforgivable.”

WCK said its convoy of vehicles — including two armored cars branded with the group’s logo — was hit by an Israeli strike while traveling in what was supposed to be a deconflicted zone. The group said it coordinated the convoy’s movements with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), leading WCK to conclude that the attack was not an accident.

“I am heartbroken and appalled that we — World Central Kitchen and the world — lost beautiful lives today because of a targeted attack by the IDF,” Gore said Tuesday. “The love they had for feeding people, the determination they embodied to show that humanity rises above all, and the impact they made in countless lives will forever be remembered and cherished.”

Photographs and video footage from the scene and its aftermath show utter carnage. Rescue teams that arrived at the scene and removed the WCK staffers’ bodies from the wreckage displayed the passports of those killed, identifying Zomi Frankcom of Australia, Damian Sobol of Poland, and other victims of the Israeli strike.

The IDF pledged to carry out “an in-depth examination at the highest levels” — a promise that, given the Israeli military’s record, is likely to prove empty.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that the strike “unintentionally hit innocent people,” but Haaretz reported that the attack “was launched because of suspicion that a terrorist was traveling with the convoy” — an indication that the strike itself, targeting vehicles carrying aid workers, was intentional.

The Israeli military has repeatedly attacked aid workers with impunity in recent months, killing staffers of United Nations agencies, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, Doctors Without Borders, and other organizations.

WCK is known for coordinating emergency food relief in disaster zones around the world. The group has collected and delivered hundreds of tons of food to Gaza in recent weeks as famine has spread across the enclave due to the Israeli government’s blockade.

Following the deadly attack on its staffers, WCK said it would pause its operations in the region immediately.

“We will be making decisions about the future of our work soon,” the group said in a statement.

Celebrity chef José Andrés, the group’s founder, wrote in a social media post late Monday that he is “heartbroken and grieving for their families and friends and our whole WCK family.”

“These are people…angels…I served alongside in Ukraine, Gaza, Turkey, Morocco, Bahamas, Indonesia,” he wrote. “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.”

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who has been accused of abetting genocide in Gaza, confirmed that Australian citizen Zomi Frankcom was among those killed by the Israeli strike and demanded “full accountability.”

“This is a tragedy that should never have occurred,” Albanese told reporters, saying he had summoned the Israeli ambassador to Australia.

Adrienne Watson, a spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council, said the Biden White House is “heartbroken and deeply troubled by the strike.”

“Humanitarian aid workers must be protected as they deliver aid that is desperately needed, and we urge Israel to swiftly investigate what happened,” she added.

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