Canadian-American citizen among aid workers killed in Gaza, hospital records show: AP

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip –

An apparent Israeli airstrike killed seven World Central Kitchen aid workers, prompting the charity to suspend delivery of vital food aid to Gaza on Tuesday, where Israel’s offensive has pushed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to the brink. of famine.

The food charity, founded by celebrity chef José Andrés, said it would immediately suspend operations in the region. Cyprus, which has played a key role in trying to establish a sea corridor, said aid ships were returning with some 240 tonnes of undelivered aid.

The origin of Monday night’s fire could not be independently confirmed. The Israeli military expressed its “sincere sorrow” over the deaths, but stopped short of accepting responsibility.

Footage showed the bodies, several of them wearing protective gear with the charity’s logo, in a hospital in the central Gaza city of Deir al-Balah. The dead included three British citizens, an Australian, a Polish citizen, a dual American-Canadian citizen and a Palestinian, according to hospital records.

The charity was key to a newly opened sea route to deliver desperately needed aid to northern Gaza, where the UN says much of the population is on the brink of famine, largely cut off from the rest of the territory by Israeli forces.

Andrés, whose charity operates in several countries devastated by war or natural disasters, including Israel after the October 7 attack that sparked the current conflict, said he was “heartbroken” by the deaths of his colleagues.

“The Israeli government must put an end to this indiscriminate killing. You have to stop restricting humanitarian aid, stop killing civilians and humanitarian workers, and stop using food as a weapon,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

The charity said the team was traveling in a three-vehicle convoy that included two armored vehicles and that their movements had been coordinated with the Israeli military.

Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the military’s top spokesman, said officials have been “reviewing the incident at the highest levels.” He says an independent investigation will be launched which will “help us reduce the risk of such an event occurring again”.

Erin Gore, chief executive of the charity, said: “This is not just an attack on WCK, it is an attack on humanitarian organizations who appear in the most dire situations where food is used as a weapon of war. “This is unforgivable.”

UNRWA, the main U.N. agency in Gaza, said in its latest report that 173 of its workers have been killed in the territory since the war began when Hamas-led militants swept into southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people and kidnapping about 250 hostages. Israel responded with one of the deadliest and most destructive offensives in recent history.

Faced with a growing humanitarian disaster in northern Gaza, several countries worked to open a sea route, hoping it would allow more aid into the territory, where supplies have only arrived through land routes controlled by Israel. The United States and other countries have also airdropped aid, but aid workers say those efforts are far from enough to meet growing needs.

Israel has banned UNRWA from delivering to the north, and other aid groups say sending truck convoys north has been too dangerous due to the military’s inability to ensure safe passage.

Three aid ships from the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus arrived early Monday with about 400 tons of food and supplies organized by World Central Kitchen and the United Arab Emirates after a pilot test was carried out last month.

Cypriot Foreign Ministry spokesman Theodoros Gotsis said on Tuesday that around 100 tonnes of aid had been unloaded before the charity suspended operations, and that the remaining 240 tonnes of aid would be transported back to Cyprus.

The United States, which has provided key military and diplomatic support to Israel’s offensive, has promoted the sea route and plans to build its own floating dock, construction of which is expected to take several weeks.

National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said the United States was “heartbroken and deeply concerned” by the attack. “We urge Israel to quickly investigate what happened,” she posted on X.

Nael Eliyan, a displaced Palestinian, was in his tent about 100 meters away when he heard the explosion Monday night and rushed to the scene. “Their injuries were serious and they died quickly,” he said, describing them as “heroes, martyrs, brave people.”

The bodies of the aid workers were taken to a hospital in the southern city of Rafah, on the border with Egypt, according to an Associated Press reporter at the hospital.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed that Zomi Frankcom, 44, of Melbourne, was among the dead and said his government had asked Israel for an explanation.

“This is someone who volunteered abroad to provide help through this charity to people suffering enormous deprivation in Gaza. And this is completely unacceptable,” Albanese told reporters.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said his country was working to verify reports of the deaths of UK citizens in the attack, which he called “deeply worrying.”

“It is essential that humanitarian workers are protected and able to do their work,” he wrote in X, also calling for an investigation.

Poland’s Foreign Ministry published “deepest words of condolence” to the family of a volunteer who had offered assistance to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, without saying how he was killed. The Foreign Ministry said it is seeking an explanation from Israel.

Przemysl Mayor Wojciech Bakun named the victim on Facebook as Damian Sobol and said he was from the city in southeastern Poland.

At least 32,916 Palestinians have died in the war, about 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 the civilian toll on Palestinian militants because they fight in dense residential areas, but the military rarely comments on individual attacks.

Two other apparent Israeli attacks on Monday night killed at least 12 Palestinians, including five children, in Rafah, where Israel has vowed to expand its ground operations despite the presence of some 1.4 million Palestinians, most of them who have sought refuge from the fighting elsewhere.

One of the attacks hit a family home, and the dead included a father and his three children, ages 7, 13 and 19, according to hospital records. Another attacked a gathering near a mosque, killing at least six people, including three children.

Aid groups have repeatedly called for a humanitarian ceasefire, saying it is the only way to reach people in need. The United States, Qatar and Egypt have spent months trying to negotiate that pause and the release of hostages, but indirect talks between Israel and Hamas remain stalled.

Hamas is believed to be holding about 100 hostages and the remains of another 30 after freeing most of the rest during a ceasefire in November in exchange for the release of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

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Magdy reported from Cairo. Associated Press journalist Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, contributed.

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