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World Central Kitchen charity halts Gaza operations after apparent Israeli strike kills 7 workers

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Deir Al-Balah (Gaza Strip): An Israeli airstrike killed six international aid workers with the World Central Kitchen and their Palestinian driver, the charity said Tuesday, in a potentially major setback to efforts to deliver aid by sea to Gaza, where Israel’s offensive against Hamas has pushed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to the brink of starvation.

he food charity, founded by celebrity chef Jose Andres, said it was immediately suspending operations in the region.

The source of fire late Monday could not be independently confirmed. The Israeli military expressed “sincere sorrow” over the deaths while stopping short of accepting responsibility.

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

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 and an American-Canadian dual citizen, according to hospital records.

The charity said the team was travelling in a three-car convoy that included two armoured vehicles.

“Despite coordinating movements with the (Israeli army), 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.”

Erin Gore, the CEO of the charity, said “this is not only an attack against WCK, this is an attack on humanitarian organizations showing up in the most dire of situations where food is being used as a weapon of war. This is unforgivable.”

Three aid ships from the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus arrived earlier Monday carrying some 400 tons of food and supplies organized by the charity and the United Arab Emirates, the group’s second shipment after a pilot run last month. The Israeli military was involved in coordinating both deliveries.

The U.S., which has provided key military and diplomatic support for Israel’s offensive, has touted the sea route as a new way to deliver desperately needed aid to northern Gaza and plans to build its own floating dock, with construction expected to take several weeks.

The U.N. has said much of the population is on the brink of starvation, largely cut off from the rest of the territory by Israeli forces. 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 too dangerous because of the military’s failure to ensure safe passage.

The UNRWA said in its latest report that 173 of its workers have been killed in Gaza. The figure does not include workers for other aid organizations.

The bodies of the aid workers have been taken to a hospital in the southern city of Rafah on the Egyptian border, according to an Associated Press reporter at the hospital. The foreigners’ bodies will be evacuated out of Gaza and the Palestinian driver’s body will be handed to his family in Rafah for burial.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed that Zomi Frankcom, 44, of Melbourne, was among those killed and said his government has requested an explanation from Israel.

“This is someone who was volunteering overseas to provide aid through this charity for people who are suffering tremendous deprivation in Gaza. And this is just completely unacceptable,” Albanese told reporters.

“We want full accountability for this because this is a tragedy that should never have occurred.”

Poland’s Foreign Ministry posted “sincerest words of sympathy” 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 requesting an explanation from Israel.

Britain’s Foreign Office said it was aware of reports of the death of a British national in Gaza and was “urgently seeking further information.”

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

At least 32,845 Palestinians have been killed, 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 the civilian toll on Palestinian militants because they fight in dense residential areas.

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 another cease-fire and 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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