Seven Gaza aid workers including UK, US and Australian citizens killed in Israeli strike, charity says

Seven people working with World Central Kitchen, a charity spearheading efforts to alleviate looming famine in Gaza, have been killed in an Israeli airstrike, the charity said, throwing humanitarian relief efforts in the Palestinian territory into chaos as the organisation said it would suspend operations.

The workers were part of a group travelling in three armoured vehicles branded with the charity’s logo, according to a statement released early on Tuesday. World Central Kitchen (WCK) said those killed were from the UK, Australia, Poland and Palestine, as well as a US-Canada dual citizen.

The bodies of the aid workers were taken to a hospital in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah, on the Egyptian border, according to an Associated Press reporter at the facility. Hospital records said three UK citizens had died.

The charity said: “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 WCK chief executive, said: “This is not only an attack against WCK, 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.”

The charity will pause its operations in the region and says it will make a decision about the future of its work, raising fears that a nascent maritime corridor from Cyprus to deliver desperately needed aid to Gaza in the face of repeated Israeli obstructions may collapse.

Cyprus said on Tuesday afternoon that ships that recently arrived in Gaza were turning back with 240 tonnes of undelivered aid.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, lamented the killings, which he said had been caused by an Israeli airstrike. He described the incident as tragic and unintended.

“This happens in wartime. We are thoroughly looking into it, are in contact with the governments [of the foreigners among the victims] and will do everything to ensure it does not happen again,” he said in a video statement.

The Israeli military expressed “sincere sorrow” over the deaths while stopping short of accepting responsibility, adding that an investigation was under way.

A statement from the military said: “The IDF makes extensive efforts to enable the safe delivery of humanitarian aid, and has been working closely with WCK in their vital efforts to provide food and humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza.”

Aid agencies’ attempts to get humanitarian assistance to where it is most needed in Gaza have been severely hampered by a combination of logistical obstacles, a breakdown of public order and lengthy bureaucracy imposed by Israel. The number of aid trucks entering the territory by land over the past five months has been far below the 500 a day that entered before the war.

In February, more than 100 people were killed when Israeli forces opened fire at an aid distribution point in Gaza City. The Israeli military said most died in a crush, but Palestinian officials and witnesses denied this, saying the majority of those taken to hospital had bullet wounds.

The UN has said at least 576,000 people in the coastal territory – a quarter of the population – are on the brink of famine, and pressure has been growing on Israel to increase the flow of aid.

Aid ships that arrived on Monday carried 400 tonnes of food and supplies – enough for 1m meals – in a shipment funded by the United Arab Emirates and organised by WCK, but workers had only offloaded 100 tonnes before the attack led the charity to order the vessels to return to Cyprus.

Last month another WCK vessel delivered 200 tonnes of aid in a pilot run enabled by WCK volunteers and others in Gaza who built a jetty from the rubble of buildings destroyed in Israeli bombing during the past five months. The Israeli military was involved in coordinating both deliveries.

Washington, Israel’s most important ally, has promoted the sea route as a new way to get desperately needed aid to northern Gaza, which is largely cut off from the rest of the territory by Israeli forces.

Israel has barred Unrwa, the main UN agency in Gaza, from making deliveries to the north after claiming several of its employees were involved in the Hamas attack that triggered the war, now in its sixth month. Other aid groups say sending truck convoys north has been too dangerous because of the military’s failure to ensure safe passage.

About 1,200 Israelis were killed and a further 250 taken hostage on 7 October, according to Israeli data, while more than 32,000 Palestinians have been killed in the ensuing Israeli offensive, according to the local health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

José Andrés, the founder of WCK, said on X that the charity “lost several of our sisters and brothers in an IDF airstrike in Gaza”.

He wrote: “I am 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. They are not faceless … they are not nameless.”

He said the Israeli government needed to “stop this indiscriminate killing”.

The Australian prime minister, Anthony Albanese, named the Australian national killed as Zomi Frankcom and called her work “extraordinarily important”.

Albanese said his government would call in the Israeli ambassador over an incident that he said was “beyond any reasonable circumstances”, adding: “Australia expects full accountability for the deaths of aid workers, which is completely unacceptable.”

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