Zomi Frankcom’s family say Australian aid worker killed in Israeli airstrike was ‘doing the work she loves’

Photograph: World Central Kitchen/Instagram

Lalzawmi Frankcom, the Australian aid worker killed by an Israeli military airstrike in Gaza, died “doing the work she loves”, her grieving family has said.

“We are deeply mourning the news that our brave and beloved Zomi has been killed doing the work she loves, delivering food to the people of Gaza,” her family said in a statement. “She will leave behind a legacy of compassion, bravery and love for all those in her orbit.”

The Melbourne-born 43-year-old “was a kind, selfless and outstanding human being [who] travelled the world helping others in their time of need”, her family said.

In late March, Frankcom appeared in a video filmed at Deir al-Balah talking about the meals being prepared for Palestinians trapped in the Gaza Strip.

A week later, she, along with six international and Palestinian colleagues, would die in that same besieged neighbourhood of central Gaza.

They were killed by an Israeli airstrike fired on their convoy south of Deir al-Balah late on Monday. Medical officials said the group had been helping to deliver food and other supplies to northern Gaza that had arrived hours earlier by ship.

“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. This is unforgivable,” World Central Kitchen chief executive officer Erin Gore said.

Australia’s prime minister, Anthony Albanese, has described Frankcom’s death, alongside those of her colleagues, as “completely unacceptable”, saying they were undertaking “extraordinarily important work” and should have been protected.

“Those doing humanitarian work and civilians need to be provided with protection. Australia has had a very clear position of supporting a sustainable ceasefire … Australians want to see an end to this conflict,” he said.

“This news today is tragic. Dfat have also requested a call-in from the Israeli ambassador as well. We want full accountability for this. This is a tragedy that should never have occurred.”

In a television interview on the ABC on Tuesday night, Albanese said the Australian government had so far been unable to speak with the Israeli ambassador or other top officials.

“There have been calls put in by the foreign minister (Penny Wong) to her counterpart and I have put in a request to prime minister Netanyahu to speak with him directly,” Albanese said.

The Australian foreign minister, Penny Wong, said: “The tributes flowing for Lalzawmi ‘Zomi’ Frankcom tell the story of a life dedicated to the service of others, including her fellow Australians during natural disasters.

“Her tireless work to improve the lives of others should never have cost Ms Frankcom her own. The government expresses its deepest sympathies to her family and loved ones, just as we mourn all civilian deaths in this conflict.”

The Israeli embassy in Canberra has been approached for a response to Albanese’s comments, including the decision to call in the ambassador.

Earlier, the embassy distributed a statement from the IDF saying that the military was “conducting a thorough review at the highest levels to understand the circumstances of this tragic incident”. The IDF said it made “extensive efforts to enable the safe delivery of humanitarian aid”.

Frankcom had worked with World Central Kitchen for five years, having been previously based in Bangkok and the US.

She had formerly worked at the Commonwealth Bank for more than eight years.

Frankcom was educated at St George girls high school in Kogarah in southern Sydney, graduating in 1998, before studying a bachelor of psychological science at Melbourne’s Swinburne University of Technology.

Friends have paid tribute to the aid worker online.

Karuna Bajracharya posted on Facebook: “Rest in peace our beautiful sister.

“Zomi risked her life many times to help those in dire need, yet our cowardly politicians don’t even dare to risk their own careers by speaking up against Israel and the USA’s six months of genocide!”

Fahad Ali said: “We will never forget her name or her sacrifice.”

Related: Australian international court judge calls for Israel to suspend Gaza military operation

The human rights campaigner Sophie McNeill, a former ABC Middle East correspondent, said: “People like Zomi are absolute heroes.

“Rushing in to help as Gazans are being starved, while our leaders provide cover for these Israeli crimes.”

Author Martin Flanagan paid tribute to her “spirit of giving”.

“Zomi Frankcom was the best of us.”

Tim Costello, former World Vision chief, paid tribute to aid workers who risked their lives in conflict zones.

“It’s a special type of person who actually says: ‘I’m going to serve others in this way, I’m going to risk my own life to actually protect the innocent’.”

Costello described the deaths of aid workers as a “bridge that we have crossed”.

“We know [foreign aid] is inherently risky … we know that aid workers take risks. They don’t take rifles, they don’t take tanks. All they have is a logo, and a flag, and the confidence that the international system respects humanitarian workers.

“That’s why this is utterly, utterly devastating.”

He said the attack was further demonstration that a ceasefire was necessary in Gaza.

“There needs to be a ceasefire for humanitarian aid to get in … I think that’s the only good thing that can come out of this terrible tragedy,” he said.

“We are all asking, ‘when is there going to be a tipping point?’ We all know Israel has a right to defend itself but to actually call for a ceasefire is not denying Israel’s right to defend itself, let alone [that] calling for a ceasefire is somehow antisemitic.”

The Australian Council for International Development said Frankcom died during “heroic work”.

“It is truly tragic that an Australian aid worker, working to provide food to starving civilians, has been killed in this fashion,” Acfid chief executive Marc Purcell said.

“Humanitarian workers in conflict zones should be ensured safety by combatants to carry out life-saving responses.”

Purcell said the Australian government should press the Israeli government to cease attacks on aid convoys and allow the safe land passage of humanitarian assistance.