US ‘deeply troubled’ as Israeli strike kills aid team

Nidal al-Mughrabi |

Israeli soldiers withdraw from Gaza City’s Al Shifa Hospital, bodies and rubble in their wake.
Israeli soldiers withdraw from Gaza City’s Al Shifa Hospital, bodies and rubble in their wake.

Citizens from Australia, Britain and Poland are among seven people working for celebrity chef Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen who were killed in an Israeli air strike in central Gaza, the NGO says.

The workers, who also included Palestinians and a dual citizen of the United States and Canada, were travelling in two armoured cars emblazoned with the WCK logo and another vehicle, WCK said in a statement on Tuesday.

Israel has long denied it is hindering the distribution of urgently needed food aid in Gaza, saying the problem is caused by the inability of international aid groups to get it to those in need.

Despite co-ordinating movements with the Israeli Defence Force, the convoy was hit as it was leaving its Deir al-Balah warehouse after unloading more than 100 tons of humanitarian food aid brought to Gaza by sea, WCK 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,” said Erin Gore, chief executive of World Central Kitchen.

“This is unforgivable.”

The Israeli military said it was doing a thorough review at the highest levels to understand the circumstances of what it called a tragic incident.

“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,” the military said.

Israel has been under mounting international pressure to alleviate the severe hunger in Gaza, which has been devastated by months of fighting that has laid waste to much of the enclave and forced most of the population from their homes.

The United Nations and other international groups have accused Israel of hindering aid distribution with bureaucratic obstacles and failing to ensure the security of food convoys, underlined by a disaster on February 29, in which about 100 people were killed as they waited for an aid delivery.

Hamas, the Islamist group that controlled Gaza, has said the main problem with aid distribution was the Israeli targeting of aid workers. 

Palestinian officials say the raid on a hospital treating severely wounded patients is a war crime. (EPA PHOTO)

Following the latest incident, it issued a statement saying the attack aimed to terrorise workers of international humanitarian agencies, deterring them from their missions.

Israeli officials accused the UN and other international bodies of “failure” over the problems in getting aid to hungry people in Gaza, saying they lack the logistical capacity to perform their jobs.

Andres, who started WCK in 2010 by sending cooks and food to Haiti after an earthquake, earlier said he was heartbroken and grieving for the families and friends of those who died.

“The Israeli government needs to stop this indiscriminate killing,” he said on social media.

“It needs to stop restricting humanitarian aid, stop killing civilians and aid workers, and stop using food as a weapon.”

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed the death of 44-year-old aid worker Lalzawmi “Zomi” Frankcom and said his government had contacted Israel to demand those responsible be held accountable.

Israel says some patients were evacuated and they had not harmed any civilians, patients or medics. (EPA PHOTO)

“This is a human tragedy that should never have occurred, that is completely unacceptable and Australia will seek full and proper accountability,” he told a press conference on Tuesday.

He said innocent civilians and humanitarian workers needed to be protected and reiterated his call for a sustainable ceasefire in Gaza along with more aid to help those suffering from “tremendous deprivation”.

Video obtained by Reuters showed paramedics moving bodies into a hospital and displaying the passports of three of those killed.

“We are heartbroken and deeply troubled by the strike that killed @WCKitchen aid workers in Gaza,” US National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said on social media.

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

WCK said it was pausing its operations in the region immediately and would make decisions soon about the future of its work.

WCK, which delivers food relief and prepares meals for people in need, said in March it had served more than 42 million meals in Gaza across 175 days.