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Foreign nationals among food aid workers killed in Israeli attack, as Netanyahu calls strike ‘unintentional’

<i>Ali Jadallah/Anadolu/Getty Images via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Passports of officials working at the US-based international volunteer aid organization World Central Kitchen (WCK) seen after an Israeli attack in Gaza.
Ali Jadallah/Anadolu/Getty Images via CNN Newsource
Passports of officials working at the US-based international volunteer aid organization World Central Kitchen (WCK) seen after an Israeli attack in Gaza.

By Abeer Salman, Caitlin Stephen Hu, Muhammad Darwish, Eyad Kourdi and Jessie Yeung, CNN

(CNN) — Seven aid workers, including foreign nationals, from the non-profit World Central Kitchen were killed in an Israeli military strike as they were delivering food to starving civilians in Gaza.

World Central Kitchen said its aid workers were traveling in a “deconflicted zone” in two armored cars branded with the charity’s logo as well as “a soft skin vehicle.”

“Despite coordinating movements with the IDF [Israel Defense Forces], the convoy was hit as it was leaving the Deir Al-Balah warehouse, where the team had unloaded more than 100 tons of humanitarian food aid brought to Gaza on the maritime route,” the group said in a statement.

Those killed include a dual US-Canada national, as well as people from Australia, Poland, three from the United Kingdom, and a Palestinian, the group said.

Videos obtained by CNN show the bloodied bodies of multiple victims wearing World Central Kitchen vests following the airstrike in the central city of Deir Al-Balah.

World Central Kitchen said it was pausing its operations following the deadly strike and assessing the future of its operations in Gaza.

“I am heartbroken and appalled that we – World Central Kitchen and the world – lost beautiful lives today because of a targeted attack by the IDF,” World Central Kitchen CEO Erin Gore said in the statement.

“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 forever be remembered and cherished,” Gore added.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday acknowledged that the aid workers had been “unintentionally” targeted.

“Unfortunately, in the last day, there was a tragic incident where our forces unintentionally struck innocent people in the Gaza Strip,” Netanyahu said in a video posted to social media. “It happens in war, and we are thoroughly investigating it. We are in contact with the governments and will do everything to prevent such occurrences in the future.”

The IDF had previously said that it is “conducting a thorough review at the highest levels to understand the circumstances of this tragic incident.”

IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said he had spoken to World Central Kitchen founder Jose Andres to express “the deepest condolences of the Israel Defense Forces to the families and the entire World Central Kitchen family.”

US President Joe Biden’s administration is also in touch with Andres, a senior administration official told CNN on Tuesday.

The Washington-headquartered charity provides meals to disaster-struck regions and communities around the world. It is one of the few aid organizations delivering desperately needed food in Gaza where 2.2 million people do not have enough to eat, and where aid agencies warn half of the population is on the brink of starvation and famine due to Israel’s throttling of aid and widespread destruction.

“Today @WCKitchen lost several of our sisters and brothers in an IDF air strike in Gaza,” Andres, the charity’s founder, wrote on X. “I am heartbroken and grieving for their families and friends and our whole WCK family.”

“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 added.

“These are people… angels… I served alongside in Ukraine, Gaza, Turkey, Morocco, Bahamas, Indonesia. They are not faceless… they are not nameless.”

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese identified the Australian victim as Lalzawmi “Zomi” Frankcom.

“This is someone who volunteered in Australia to help people during the bushfires. This is someone who was volunteering overseas to provide aid through this charity for people who are suffering tremendous deprivation in Gaza,” Albanese said.

“Australia expects full accountability for the deaths of aid workers, which is completely unacceptable.”

He said the Australian government has already contacted the Israeli government directly, and that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had requested a “call-in” from the Israeli ambassador to Australia.

Polish authorities confirmed that one of its nationals, Damian Sobol from the town of Przemysl, was killed as well.

Radoslaw Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister, said he personally asked Israel’s envoy to the country to deliver an “urgent” explanation. Sikorski said he was assured “that Poland would soon receive the results of the investigation into this tragedy.”

The UK also summoned Israel’s envoy to the country over the incident. The country’s minister of state for development and Africa said three British nationals were killed in the strike.

Saif Issam Abu-Taha, a Palestinian driver and translator working with World Central Kitchen, was named as one of the victims by Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Gaza.

Hamas condemned the attack in a statement on Tuesday, urging the international community and the United Nations to “take action.”

“This crime once again confirms that the occupation continues its policy of deliberate killing of innocent civilians, international relief teams, and humanitarian organizations, in its efforts to terrorize those working in them and prevent them from carrying out their humanitarian duties,” it said in the statement.

US National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said on X that the White House was “heartbroken and deeply troubled” by the killings. Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Beijing was “shocked” by the attack.

Other charities were quick to mourn the losses and praise World Central Kitchen’s commitment to helping those in need in the face of danger.

Matthew Hollingworth, the World Food Programme’s Palestine director praised the “life-saving work” of those killed, while Norwegian Refugee Council Secretary General Jan Egeland called for an immediate ceasefire.

“Nowhere else are so many aid workers killed,” Egeland said.

Aid workers under attack

Barak Ravid, a Middle East expert and CNN political and global affairs analyst, said his sources in Israel painted a picture of “confusion” and “embarrassment” after the World Central Kitchen workers’ deaths.

World Central Kitchen was “an NGO that that the IDF worked very closely with, because part of what World Central Kitchen did was to bring food to Gaza through the sea,” Ravid said.

“The IDF wanted to show that by working with this organization, it is addressing the food shortages in Gaza,” he added. “And now a few days later, the IDF allegedly hits… aid workers from this organization.”

Chris Cobb-Smith, a former British Army artillery officer and munitions expert, said the heavy damage to three vehicles seen in video and images from the scene was consistent with the use of “highly accurate drone fired missiles.” He said it was “hard to believe” the tragic incident was an accident, but cautioned that he would need to inspect missile fragments from the scene to provide a thorough analysis.

The drone which fired the fatal missiles would have been operated in conjunction with a surveillance drone, Cobb-Smith said, meaning the Israeli military would have had total visibility of the cars, at least two of which were branded with the World Central Kitchen logo on their roofs.

Ravid pointed out that this isn’t the first time aid workers have allegedly come under fire by Israeli forces. The vast majority of aid workers who have been killed have been Palestinians and their families.

Since the latest war began following Hamas’ October 7 murder and kidnap rampage through southern Israel, at least 165 workers with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) have been killed, the agency said last month.

Monday’s tragedy prompted another aid group, American Near East Refugee Aid (Anera), to suspend its operations in Gaza to protect its staff.

“Delivering aid safely is no longer feasible,” Anera said in a statement.

The World Central Kitchen has made headlines in recent years for coordinating food relief for thousands of people after an earthquake devastated Haiti, Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, wildfires scorched Southern California, and a refugee crisis intensified on the Venezuelan border.

In March, the non-profit led an initiative to ship 200 tons of food aid to Gaza – which it said was the first maritime shipment of humanitarian aid to the Palestinian enclave.

The shipment included enough ingredients for 500,000 meals that World Central Kitchen planned to distribute in the strip, where hundreds of thousands people are on the brink of famine.

The maritime corridor running from Cyprus to Gaza will remain open despite the attack, Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said on Tuesday.

“The tragic events should not discourage us,” Christodoulides said. “We must double down on our efforts to provide more assistance as the needs dramatically escalate.”

This is a developing story and has been updated.

CNN’s Benjamin Brown, Tala Alrajjal, Radina Gigova and Antonia Mortensen contributed to this report

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