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World Central Kitchen charity halts Gaza ops after Israeli strike

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged that the country's forces had carried out an "unintended strike" on "innocent people."
World Central Kitchen charity halts Gaza ops after Israeli strike
Posted at 8:55 AM, Apr 02, 2024

An international charity suspended delivery of food to starving Palestinians on Tuesday, a day after an Israeli airstrike killed seven aid workers from World Central Kitchen who were trying to ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Ships still laden with some 240 tons of aid from the charity that arrived Monday turned back from Gaza, according to Cyprus, which has played a key role in trying to establish a sea route to bring food to the territory. Israel has allowed only a trickle of aid into devastated northern Gaza, where experts say famine is imminent.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged that the country’s forces had carried out the “unintended strike ... on innocent people.” He said officials were looking into the strike and would work to ensure it did not happen again.

World Central Kitchen said it had coordinated with the Israeli military over the movement of the cars carrying the workers as they left northern Gaza late Monday. Footage of the aftermath showed a vehicle with the charity’s logo printed across its roof to make it identifiable from the air. The projectile punched a large hole through the roof. Two other vehicles in the convoy were incinerated and mangled, indicating multiple hits.

Other footage showed the bodies, several wearing protective gear with the charity’s logo, at a hospital in the central Gaza town of Deir al-Balah. Those killed include three British nationals, an Australian, a Polish national, an American-Canadian dual citizen and a Palestinian, according to hospital records.

The killings threatened to bring repercussions on multiple levels. The dead were citizens of some of Israel’s closest allies, which could antagonize them at a time when the country has few friends amid mounting international criticism of its nearly 6-month-old offensive in Gaza.

The strike could also set back efforts by the U.S. and other countries to open a maritime corridor for aid from Cyprus. World Central Kitchen, a food charity founded by celebrity chef José Andrés, was key to the new route.

Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said Tuesday that ship deliveries would continue. Israel has barred UNRWA, the main U.N. agency in Gaza, from making deliveries to the north, and other aid groups say sending truck convoys north has been extremely difficult because of the military’s failure to either grant permission or ensure safe passage.

SEE MORE: Israeli airstrike on Iran's consulate in Syria kills 2 generals

The strike also underscored what critics have called the Israeli military's disregard for civilian casualties in its Gaza campaign, which it says is aimed at destroying Hamas after its Oct. 7 attacks on Israel.

Throughout the war, Israeli forces have shown readiness to inflict widespread destruction when they believe a suspected militant is present or when ground troops see a tactical need to strike.

Homes with families sheltering inside are leveled by strikes almost daily. The military has struck ambulances and aid vehicles, saying that armed fighters were in them.

In February, troops and a tank opened fire when they felt threatened as thousands of Palestinians crowded to take aid off trucks, and more than 100 people were killed. The military said it did not fire at the convoy and that some victims died in stampeding.

More than 32,900 Palestinians have been killed in the war, around two-thirds of them women and children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in its count. Israel blames Hamas for civilian deaths, saying it operates in populated areas.

The U.S., Britain, Poland and Australia called for an investigation or an explanation from Israel over the aid workers’ deaths. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant ordered the forming of a “profession team” to investigate the strike and the opening of a joint situation room enabling coordination between the military and aid groups.

Andrés — whose charity operates in several countries wracked by wars or natural disasters — said he was “heartbroken” by the deaths of the staffers.

“The Israeli government needs to stop this indiscriminate killing. It needs to stop restricting humanitarian aid, stop killing civilians and aid workers, and stop using food as a weapon,” he wrote on X.

Anera, a Washington-based aid group that has been operating in the Palestinian territories for decades, said that in the wake of the strike it was taking the “unprecedented” step of pausing its own operations in Gaza, where it had been helping to provide around 150,000 meals daily.

“The escalating risks associated with aid delivery leave us with no choice,” it said in a statement.

SEE MORE: Israeli airstrike on Iran's consulate in Syria kills 2 generals

Jamie McGoldrick, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, said the strike was “not an isolated incident,” noting that around 200 humanitarian workers have been killed in the war.

“This is nearly three times the death toll recorded in any single conflict in a year,” he said.

The war began when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel in a surprise attack on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people and taking around 250 hostage. Israel responded with one of the deadliest and most destructive offensives in recent history.

Tensions have soared across the Middle East, and an apparent Israeli strike on Iran’s consulate in the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Monday has ratcheted them up even further. Iran and its allies have vowed to respond to the strike, which killed two Iranian generals.

Monday’s strike on the aid workers came hours after a new delivery with some 400 tons of food and supplies organized by World Central Kitchen and the United Arab Emirates arrived in three ships from Cyprus, following a pilot run last month.

Around 100 tons were unloaded before the charity suspended operations, and the rest was being taken back to Cyprus, Cypriot Foreign Ministry spokesman Theodoros Gotsis said.

The dead in the strike included Zomi Frankcom, 44, of Melbourne, Australia, and Damian Soból of Poland, the two countries' governments confirmed.

Two other Israeli strikes late Monday killed at least 16 Palestinians, including eight children, in Rafah, where Israel has vowed to expand its ground operation despite the presence of some 1.4 million Palestinians, most of whom have sought refuge from fighting elsewhere.

One strike hit a family home, killing 10 people, including five children, according to hospital records. Another hit a gathering near a mosque, killing at least six people, including three children.

Aid groups have repeatedly called for a humanitarian cease-fire, saying it’s the only way to reach people in need. The United States, Qatar and Egypt have spent months trying to broker such a pause and a hostage release, but the indirect talks between Israel and Hamas remain bogged down.

Hamas is believed to be holding some 100 hostages and the remains of 30 others after freeing most of the rest during a cease-fire in November in exchange for the release of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

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