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Some humanitarian work suspended in Gaza after deadly Israeli airstrike

At least 200 humanitarian workers have been killed in Gaza — more than 95% Palestinians – since the outbreak of war.

World Central Kitchen workers in Gaza
World Central Kitchen workers in Gaza (AN/World Central Kitchen/

In the wake of Israeli airstrikes that killed at least seven aid workers delivering food, several humanitarian groups moved to halt their operations as concerns for safety and civilians' survival mounted in Gaza.

The Israeli strikes that killed seven World Central Kitchen workers in Gaza earlier this week "were carried out in serious violation" of military procedures when a commander mistakenly assumed that two Hamas gunman were inside one of charity's vehicles, according to Israel Defense Forces' findings on Friday.

"The strike on the aid vehicles is a grave mistake stemming from a serious failure due to a mistaken identification, errors in decision-making, and an attack contrary to the standard operating procedures," IDF concluded.

WCK, which emphasized that its convoy had coordinated its route with the Israeli military, demanded an independent investigation into the targeted airstrike and urged Western governments to join in the call. The aid workers killed were citizens of Australia, Canada, Gaza, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

And while the Washington-based food charity described IDF's acknowledgement of its fatal errors and disciplinary actions against those in command as important steps forward, it called on the military to make far-reaching "systemic" changes to prevent "more military failures, more apologies and more grieving families."

Celebrity chef José Andrés, who founded WCK in 2010, said “it’s not enough to simply try to avoid further humanitarian deaths, which have now approached close to 200. All civilians need to be protected, and all innocent people in Gaza need to be fed and safe. And all hostages must be released.”

WCK's Executive Co-chair and Treasurer Javier Garcia and CEO Erin Gore said all three of the charity's vehicles were carrying civilians in clearly marked WCK vehicles, and their movements were in full compliance with Israeli authorities who were aware of WCK's itinerary, route, and humanitarian mission.

“Their apologies for the outrageous killing of our colleagues represent cold comfort,” said Gore. “It’s cold comfort for the victims’ families and WCK’s global family. "Israel needs to take concrete steps to assure the safety of humanitarian aid workers. Our operations remain suspended."

WCK, along with the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, and other organizations paused their aid deliveries because of the escalating dangers to staff and their families.

That has brought a temporary end to the millions of meals delivered across Gaza, where U.N. officials say half the population – at least 1.1 million people – suffer catastrophic hunger and soon will face famine due to Israeli military restrictions on aid and the Israel-Hamas war's destruction.

At least 200 humanitarian workers have been killed in Gaza, nearly all of them Palestinians, since the outbreak of the war starting with Hamas' terror attack against Israel on Oct. 7.

The two officials with WCK said they hoped to "ensure the integrity of the investigation" by asking the Israeli government to "immediately preserve" all documents and communications, including video and audio recordings, plus any other materials potentially relevant to the April 1 strikes.

"An independent investigation is the only way to determine the truth of what happened, ensure transparency and accountability for those responsible, and prevent future attacks on humanitarian aid workers," they said.

U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

'Delays and the denial of humanitarian missions'

Israel has apologized for its "grave mistake" of targeting WCK's convoy displaying the charity's logo. “Unfortunately, there was a tragic incident in which our forces unintentionally hit innocent people in the Gaza Strip,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

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

In the U.S., Adrienne Watson, a White House National Security Council spokesperson, urged Israel to investigate what happened. "We are heartbroken and deeply troubled by the strike that that killed WCK aid workers in Gaza," she said. "Humanitarian aid workers must be protected as they deliver aid that is desperately needed, and we urge Israel to swiftly investigate what happened."

WCK also halted the maritime aid corridor from Cyprus that it set up last month. OCHA suspended night operations in Gaza to assess the situation, while the World Food Program – which is continuing to work in daytime hours – and the World Health Organization demanded that Israel grant access to deliver life-saving food and medical help.

"As famine closes in, we need humanitarian staff and supplies to be able to move freely and safely across the Gaza Strip," U.N. spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told a U.N. press briefing. "Delays and the denial of humanitarian missions not only prevent us from reaching those in need but they also impact other operations and delivery by diverting scarce resources."

The Palestine Red Crescent Society, one of 191 national member societies that make up the Geneva-based International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, or IFRC, recovered the bodies of the seven WCK workers and transported them to southern Gaza to be evacuated from the region.

"The tragic killing of the WCK aid workers is unfortunately not uncommon," PRCS said, "as our team members have been repeatedly killed despite coordination efforts and wearing the Red Crescent emblem, which is meant to provide protection."

The International Rescue Committee said it, too, is "appalled" by the attack that killed the seven WCK aid workers, including both Palestinian and foreign nationals, after they unloaded food aid at its central warehouse.

It also express alarm at the more than 32,000 Palestinian civilian deaths reported by the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, in addition to the 1,200 Israelis killed by Hamas in its surprise attack.

"Since October 2023, more than 200 humanitarian workers have now been killed in the occupied Palestinian territory, more than 95% of whom are Palestinian," the IRC said. "Gaza is the most dangerous place in the world to be an aid worker, as well as the most dangerous place to be a civilian."

This story has been updated with additional details.