Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes responsibility for Gaza strike which killed three Britons

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has taken responsibility for the strike on a Gaza aid convoy which killed three British citizens – but insisted the attack was “unintended”.

Rishi Sunak has demanded that Israel urgently investigate the strikes, which killed seven World Central Kitchen (WCK) aid workers on Monday night, including a Palestinian, an Australian, a Polish national, an American-Canadian dual citizen.

The three Britons were named by the BBC as James Henderson, John Chapman and James Kirby on Tuesday night.

With Australia, Spain and Poland also pressing for answers, and the White House warning it was “deeply troubled” by the fatal attack on the convoy of aid trucks, Mr Netanyahu said: “Unfortunately over the last day there was a tragic incident of an unintended strike of our forces on innocent people in the Gaza Strip.”

People inspect the site where World Central Kitchen workers were killed in Deir al-Balah (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)
People inspect the site where World Central Kitchen workers were killed in Deir al-Balah (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

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

The convoy – consisting of two armoured cars branded with the WCK logo and a soft-skin vehicle – was hit as it was leaving the Deir al-Balah warehouse, where the team had unloaded more than 100 tonnes of humanitarian food aid taken to Gaza on the maritime route, the aid group said.

The “unforgivable” attack came despite the charity coordinating on its movements with the Israeli military along approved routes, said WCK, which was founded by Spanish-American celebrity chef José Andrés. He described the aid workers as “angels” and said he was “heartbroken and grieving for their families and friends”.

The charity announced it has suspended its activities in the region.

The bodies were taken to al-Aqsa hospital, some of them wearing protective gear with the logo of World Central Kitchen charity, The Independent understands. The Palestine Red Crescent Society said the operation to recover the seven bodies took “several hours”.

One of the destroyed cars pictured along Al Rashid road (EPA/MOHAMMED SABER)
One of the destroyed cars pictured along Al Rashid road (EPA/MOHAMMED SABER)

The Israeli military hit the convoy three times with a drone as the aid workers tried to dive for cover between the vehicles and drive those wounded to safety, security sources told Haaretz.

Expressing the “deepest condolences” to the aid workers’ bereaved families, the IDF insisted it was “reviewing the incident at the highest levels” and said it would be “investigated in the Fact Finding and Assessment Mechanism: an independent, professional, and expert body”.

“Last night, an incident took place in Gaza that resulted in the tragic death of World Central Kitchen employees as they fulfilled their vital mission of bringing food to people in need,” an IDF spokesperson said.

“As a professional military committed to international law, we are committed to examining our operations thoroughly and transparently. I just spoke to WCK Founder, Chef Jose Anders, and expressed the deepest condolences of the Israel Defence Forces to the families and the entire World Central Kitchen family.

“We also express sincere sorrow to our allied nations who have been doing and continue to do so much to assist those in need. We will be opening a probe to examine this serious incident further. This will help us reduce the risk of such an event from occurring again.”

Australian national, Zomi Frankcom, 43, was the first of the seven to be named. Former WCK chief executive Nate Mook, who first hired Ms Frankcom, described her to The Independent as a “shining star” and “gift to the world”.

Zomi Frankcom was described as a ‘gift to the world’ (The Independent)
Zomi Frankcom was described as a ‘gift to the world’ (The Independent)

Ms Frankcom was interviewed by this publication just three weeks before she was killed, from a Jordanian military base where she was coordinating the delivery of humanitarian aid via airdrops.

Polish citizen Damian Sobol, 35, has also been named as among the dead. He started volunteering with WCK at the outset of Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, to help feed refugees in the border town of Przemysl, before joining the charity’s response to the earthquakes in Turkey and then in Gaza.

Lord David Cameron said the UK’s Foreign Office was “working to verify” reports that British nationals were among the aid workers killed, adding that the government wanted “a full, transparent explanation of what happened”.

Senior Tory MP Alicia Kearns, who chairs the Commons foreign affairs committee, also demanded a “thorough and swift” investigation.

She added: “There is also still no explanation for the bombing of the Medical Aid for Palestine complex in a safe zone, which had also been deconflicted directly with the IDF in January, which four British doctors fortunately survived. Humanitarian agencies must be given the assurances they need that their people will be protected.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for international law to be upheld as he described the deaths as “outrageous and unacceptable”.

“We condemn this strike,” he said. “There must be a full investigation and those responsible must be held to account. Humanitarian workers put their lives in danger to serve others. Their deaths are outrageous and unacceptable – and it is not the first time aid workers have come under fire in Israel’s campaign.”

David Miliband, head of the International Rescue Committee, said the organisation “grieves with [WCK] at the senseless loss”, adding: “[Aid workers’] protection is a legal and moral right for civilians and the aid workers there to help them.

“The war in Gaza has cost too many lives. We call not just for safety and aid flows but for a sustained ceasefire.”

Additional reporting by agencies