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Aid-worker victims in Gaza were targeted, says NGO

02 April 2024

Seven members of World Central Kitchen killed in an Israeli air strike


People inspect the site where World Central Kitchen workers were killed in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip on Tuesday

People inspect the site where World Central Kitchen workers were killed in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip on Tuesday

SEVEN aid workers have been killed in Gaza in an Israeli air strike, it was reported on Tuesday morning.

The aid organisation World Central Kitchen (WCK) released a statement confirming that seven members of their team had been killed in an air strike on Monday.

The group, which included three British nationals, was travelling in a convoy of vehicles branded with the organisation’s logo, and had co-ordinated movements with the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), the statement said.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, confirmed that “there was a tragic case of our forces unintentionally hitting innocent people in the Gaza Strip”.

The UK Prime Minister said that he was “shocked and saddened”, and that “clearly there are questions that need to be answered”.

The aid workers were involved in unpacking food supplies that had just arrived in Gaza by sea. Two weeks ago, WCK, working with the United Arab Emirates, was the first to make such a maritime delivery, amid increasing concern about insufficient food aid reaching Gaza through land and road routes (News, 22 March).

On Tuesday afternoon, it was reported that other ships, carrying 240 tonnes of aid, were due to turn back to Cyprus without completing their deliveries.

The chief executive of WCK, Erin Gore, said on Tuesday: “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.”

She described the incident as a “targeted attack by the IDF”, and paid tribute to the aid workers killed: “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 for ever be remembered and cherished.”

In a video message, an IDF spokesman, Daniel Hagari, said that the army was investigating the “tragic death” of the aid workers, but did not confirm that they had been killed in an air strike.

“The work of WCK is critical; they are on the front lines of humanity,” he said. “We will get to the bottom of this, and we will share our findings transparently.”

Not all of the WCK staff killed have been named, but those who have include the Australian Lalzawmi “Zomi” Frankcom, and Damian Soból, who was from Poland.

In the wake of the incident, several NGOs working in Gaza have announced that they are suspending their activities, BBC News has reported.

WCK is one of those pausing its work. Since October, the charity says that it has served more than 42 million meals to people in Gaza.

American Near East Refugee Aid (Anera) is also suspending operations in Gaza, the charity’s chief executive, Sean Carroll, has said. “Together, Anera and WCK provide some two million meals a week in Gaza,” Mr Carroll told the BBC.

Asked about the impact of this decision on food supplies in Gaza, Mr Carroll said: “The occupying power has an obligation under international law to provide for the people under occupation.”

In a statement last week calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, and warning of a widespread famine, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that “all parties to a conflict must allow and facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians in need” (News, 22 March).

On Tuesday morning, the Foreign Secretary, Lord Cameron, said that the news of the alleged strike was “deeply distressing”, and that the UK Government was “urgently working to verify” reports that a British national was among those killed.

“We have called on Israel to immediately investigate and provide a full, transparent explanation of what happened,” he said.

On Tuesday, Christian Aid’s Head of Middle East Policy & Advocacy, William Bell, condemned the attack, and demanded “adherence to international humanitarian law”.

“This is another reminder of the indiscriminate and serious threat posed by airstrikes and demonstrates the fallacy of there being anything such as safe zones in Gaza.

“We are therefore calling for a permanent ceasefire to guarantee a safe and effective humanitarian response and, ultimately, to create the conditions for a sustainable peace,” he said.

In a post on social media, the former Bishop of Bath & Wells the Rt Revd Peter Hancock described the incident as “absolutely tragic”.

At least 196 aid workers have been killed in Gaza since 7 October, according to the Aid Worker Security Database. The large majority of them were employed by the UN. 

Muted Easter celebrations took place in Gaza over the weekend. And The Times of Israel reported that about 100 people gathered at the RC Holy Family Church, in Gaza City, on Saturday night.

An Easter message from the patriarchs and heads of the Churches in Jerusalem spoke of the “intense suffering that surrounds us here in the Holy Land”, and denounced “all violent actions in the present devastating war, especially those directed against innocent civilians”.

On Easter Day, Anglicans in Jerusalem gathered for a service which the Dean of St George’s College, the Very Revd Canon Richard Sewell, described on social media as “truly joyful”.

On Good Friday, the Archbishop in Jerusalem, Dr Hosam Naoum, had led Anglicans along the Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem. Dean Sewell said that the walk “went off quietly and prayerfully”.

“We prayed for victims of violence and for perpetrators. We prayed for all the peoples of Israel and Palestine. We prayed for peace with justice and an end to war,” he wrote.

The Church Times has previously reported on increased reports of harassment of Christians walking the Stations of the Cross, after a group of Anglicans were spat at by a Hasidic Jewish boy (News, 4 August 2023).

Eastern Orthodox churches will celebrate Easter this coming weekend. 

Read more on this story in this week’s Leader comment

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