Israeli strike on World Central Kitchen convoy halts some Gaza aid efforts



Several humanitarian groups said Tuesday that they would suspend their operations in Gaza after seven World Central Kitchen workers were killed in an Israeli strike, threatening already precarious deliveries to the aid-starved enclave.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed that Israel carried out the strike Monday but said it was “unintentional.” He vowed the military would carry out a “transparent” investigation and make the results public.

President Biden called the incident a “tragedy” in a statement Tuesday. “Incidents like yesterday’s simply should not happen,” he said. “Israel has also not done enough to protect civilians.”

Speaking earlier that day, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, appearing with his French counterpart in Paris, called on Israel to carry out a “swift, a thorough and impartial” inquiry. He also defended ongoing U.S. arms deliveries to Israel, saying each transfer was approved by Congress in accordance with the law.

The U.S.-based nonprofit, founded by celebrity chef José Andrés, provides hot meals in crisis zones, from American communities ravaged by fires and hurricanes to war-battered Ukraine and Gaza. The attack on the aid convoy killed four members of the group’s relief team, identified by the nonprofit as Lalzawmi Frankcom, a 43-year-old Australian; Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, a 25-year-old Palestinian; Damian Soból, a 35-year-old from Poland; and Jacob Flickinger, a 33-year-old dual U.S.-Canadian citizen.

Three British nationals on WCK’s security team also died in the strike: John Chapman, 57; James Henderson, 33; and James Kirby, 47.

WCK chief executive Erin Gore described the strike on the convoy — the movements of which she said were coordinated with the Israel Defense Forces — as a “targeted attack” and “unforgivable.” In a later statement, Gore described the workers as “beautiful souls” whose “smiles, laughter, and voices are forever embedded in our memories.”

The organization said the team was traveling in a “deconflicted zone” in two armored cars with the WCK logo branded on the roof, to make them clearly identifiable from the air, and a third vehicle. Images from the scene showed a blackened hole on the roof of one of the vehicles, puncturing the nonprofit’s logo.

World Central Kitchen said that seven of its workers in Gaza were killed in an Israeli strike and that it was immediately halting its operations in the region. (Video: AP)

The strike is the first of the war to kill foreign aid workers, but humanitarian officials say it is part of a pattern of attacks by Israel on relief convoys. Israeli limitations on aid deliveries, and its targeting of police officers that protected them, have put Gaza’s 2 million people on the brink of famine. The situation is especially dire in the north, where health officials say children have begun to die of malnutrition, and many families are subsisting on weeds and animal feed.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that “this incident is emblematic of a larger problem and evidence of why distribution of aid in Gaza has been so challenging.” He said Biden had spoken to Andrés by telephone and would convey U.S. concerns to Israel.

As aid deliveries by land collapsed this year, WCK began sending ships in March from Cyprus to a newly constructed port off the Gazan coast, where staffers waited to load the goods onto trucks. In mid-February, Andrés visited Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to get Israeli officials on board with the plan.

“This is just a very clear and illustrative example of the challenges, the deadly challenges, that humanitarian workers face every day in Gaza, be they international or, as most of them are, Palestinians,” said Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the U.N. secretary general.

The United Nations says 174 of its staffers have been killed in Gaza since October.

“This is not an isolated incident,” said U.N. humanitarian coordinator James McGoldrick. “This is nearly three times the death toll recorded in any single conflict in a year.”

Netanyahu described the incident as “tragic.”

“We are investigating the matter fully, we are in contact with the governments, and we will do everything possible to prevent this from happening again,” he said.

The Israel Defense Forces said Tuesday evening that according to a preliminary inquiry, Monday’s strike was the result of a “misidentification — at night during a war in very complex conditions.” IDF chief of staff Herzi Halevi called the incident a “grave mistake” and said the strike “was not carried out with the intention of harming WCK aid workers.”

The strike sent shock waves through the international aid community. WCK and at least two other groups said they would pause their operations in Gaza.

They included the American Near East Refugee Aid organization, which works in partnership with WCK to distribute 150,000 hot meals a day to Gazans. A logistics coordinator for the U.S.-based nongovernmental organization and his 6-year-old son were killed last month when Israel bombed a house where he was sheltering with his family, according to Sean Carroll, the president and chief executive. The coordinates for the property had been repeatedly shared with the IDF, he said.

The IDF did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Project HOPE, a global health nonprofit that operates three clinics in Gaza, said it would suspend its work for at least three days in the wake of the strike. “We have felt to a certain degree persecuted for the work that we’ve done,” said Chris Skopec, executive vice president, describing the killing of a Palestinian staff member in a strike on his family home in early March.

“With the bombings, with the troops on the ground, with the fighting you have sometimes the impression that you are playing Russian roulette,” said Claire Magone, general director of Doctors Without Borders France, who said that the organization has lost five Palestinian colleagues since the beginning of the war in bombings or direct attacks.

Ciarán Donnelly from the International Rescue Committee said the organization would continue its operations in Gaza, but noted that “it would be surprising if this attack doesn’t have a chilling effect on the willingness of aid workers to deploy” to the enclave.

WCK ships carrying nearly 400 tons of food arrived in Gaza on Monday. Around 100 tons had been offloaded and were being distributed by the team. The attack occurred as they left a warehouse in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, the group said. The remaining, unloaded aid will be returned to Cyprus, a Cypriot Foreign Ministry spokesman told the Associated Press.

Sari Bashi, program director at Human Rights Watch, called for an end to U.S. arms deliveries to Israel because of the “real risk” that they could be used in incidents that breach international law.

“Under a circumstance in which warring parties are carrying out grave abuses, continuing to arm them risks complicity,” she said.

The State Department, which has the authority to approve arms transfers to foreign governments, has come under mounting scrutiny for its recent authorization of warplanes and bombs to Israel, including 2,000-pound MK84 bombs.

Speaking in Paris on Tuesday, Blinken said the United States would continue to provide Israel the weapons it needs to defend itself. He praised the dead aid workers as “heroes.”

A Pentagon spokeswoman, Sabrina Singh, told reporters later Tuesday that it was unclear whether the weapons used by Israel to conduct the strike had been provided by the United States. “I’m not going to get ahead of the investigation that the Israelis are conducting,” she said.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the death of Frankcom was “completely unacceptable.”

“We want full accountability for this, because this is a tragedy that should never have occurred,” Albanese said at a news conference.

British Foreign Minister David Cameron described the strike as “deeply distressing.”

Abutaha’s cousin Yousef Sharif said the 25-year-old worked as a driver for the WCK team in Gaza and described his death as a “big loss.”

In a social media post late Monday, Andrés called those who were killed his “sisters and brothers” and “angels.”

“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.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said it recovered the bodies of the seven victims in a “challenging operation” Tuesday morning and transported them to southern Gaza to await evacuation through the Rafah border crossing.

The PRCS said it brought the bodies first to al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah, where the convoy was hit, and then later to Abu Yousef al-Najjar Hospital on Gaza’s southern border.

“When the attack happened, we managed to evacuate five from the location to al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, but two at that time were still missing,” Nebal Farsakh, a spokeswoman for the PRCS, told The Washington Post. “They were located in an area which was still dangerous.”

The coordination process with Israeli forces to retrieve the remaining two bodies took three hours, she said.

Marwan al-Hams, director of al-Najjar Hospital, said the bodies would be kept there “until their embassies or consular representatives are present.”

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed April 2 the death of Australian aid worker Lalzawmi “Zomi” Frankcom in an Israeli strike in Gaza. (Video: Reuters)

Israel is facing increasing pressure from the United States and other Western allies over the humanitarian toll of the war, launched in response to the Hamas-led attack on Israeli communities on Oct. 7. In an order last week, the International Court of Justice called on Israel to “take all necessary and effective measures” to ensure the provision of basic services and humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in the enclave.

“If they are aid workers, they are civilians, and civilians are protected from attack under the law of war,” said Brian Finucane, a former legal adviser at the State Department and now a senior adviser at the Crisis Group think tank.

White House spokesman John Kirby on April 2 called for a “swift” investigation into an Israeli strike that killed World Central Kitchen workers in Gaza. (Video: The Washington Post)

The Spanish-born Andrés formed WCK in 2010. It quickly grew into a high-profile relief organization for natural disasters and war zones. Andrés used his status to raise awareness of global crises and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize this year by congressional Democrats.

The organization pushed for the construction of a jetty off the coast of Gaza last month, allowing a ship chartered by the Spanish search-and-rescue group Open Arms to send about 200 tons of food and water to the enclave.

WCK said last month that it had served more than 42 million meals since the war began and opened more than 60 community kitchens across Gaza.

In a statement Monday, the IDF said it has been working with WCK to facilitate its efforts.

“The IDF makes extensive efforts to enable the safe delivery of humanitarian aid, and has been working closely with [World Central Kitchen] in their vital efforts to provide food and humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza,” the IDF said in the statement.

Louisa Loveluck and Miriam Berger in Jerusalem, Michael Miller in Sydney, Hajar Harb in London, Heba Farouk Mahfouz in Cairo, Frances Vinall and Kelsey Ables in Seoul, Adam Taylor and Karen DeYoung in Washington and Kareem Fahim in Beirut contributed to this report.


An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Damian Soból was 25 years old. He was 35. It also misspelled the surname of Jacob Flickinger. The article has been corrected.


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