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World Central Kitchen pauses Gaza operations after workers killed in airstrike

People gather around the wreckage of a car used by the U.S.-based aid group World Central Kitchen on April 2, 2024, that was hit by an airstrike the previous day in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip.
People gather around the wreckage of a car used by the U.S.-based aid group World Central Kitchen on April 2, 2024, that was hit by an airstrike the previous day in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip.
-/AFP via Getty Images

Updated April 2, 2024 at 8:22 AM ET

The World Central Kitchen, the international food charity founded by chef José Andrés, announced early on Tuesday that it was pausing aid operations after it said an Israeli airstrike killed seven of the organization's workers in Gaza.

The organization said its workers had been traveling in a "deconflicted zone" in two armored cars carrying the WCK logo and a soft skin vehicle. It said that despite organizing travel with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the convoy was hit as it was leaving a warehouse in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza.

The Israeli military said in a statement it is investigating the report "at the highest levels to understand the circumstances of this tragic incident." Tuesday, Israeli military spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said in a videotaped statement, "we will share our findings transparently."

In its statement, WCK said the seven killed are from Australia, Poland, United Kingdom, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada, and Palestine.

"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," WCK CEO Erin Gore said. "This is unforgivable."

The WCK announcement followed an earlier statement from Andrés saying his organization had lost "several" of its international volunteers in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza.

The renowned Spanish-born chef said in a statement on X: "Today, @WCK lost several of our brothers and sisters in an IDF air strike in Gaza. I am heartbroken and grieving for the families and friends and our whole WCK family."

Speaking at a Tuesday news conference, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the death of an Australian aid worker was unacceptable.

"The truth is that this is beyond any reasonable circumstances that someone going about providing aid and humanitarian assistance should lose their life," Albanese said.

White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said on X that the U.S. is "heartbroken and deeply troubled" by the strike. "Humanitarian aid workers must be protected as they deliver aid that is desperately needed, and we urge Israel to swiftly investigate what happened."

U.K. Foreign Secretary David Cameron said it "is deeply distressing."

World Central Kitchen operates in crisis areas around the globe. It had begun delivering food and aid to Gaza as U.N. experts and aid groups warn that large swaths of the population are suffering from malnutrition and thousands of people, particularly in the north of Gaza, are at risk of imminent famine. Last week, the International Court of Justice issued an order that Israel — which denies the reports of food shortages — should ensure sufficient aid gets into Gaza.

A Palestinian paramedic who was on the team that brought the aid workers' bodies to the hospital told The Associated Press that the WCK volunteers had been driving in a three-car convoy that had been delivering aid to northern Gaza and were headed back to the south when an Israeli missile struck. The medic, Mahmoud Thabet, said they headed back to Rafah, where more than a million displaced Gazans are sheltering close to Gaza's southern border with Egypt.

Footage that The Associated Press said was from the Al-Aqsa Hospital in central Gaza showed at least four bodies, some wearing protective body armor and one wearing a T-shirt with the WCK logo on it. Hospital staff said the passports of the dead indicated one of them was British, another Australian and one Polish. The nationality of the fourth was not immediately clear. Other reports indicated a Palestinian driver from the Gaza Strip was also killed.

Andrés mourned the loss of his colleagues and denounced Israeli policy in the isolated coastal enclave, which it invaded last October after the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a massive attack on Israel that killed some 1,200 people, and took hundreds of hostages into Gaza, where more than 130 remain.

The Israeli offensive in Gaza has killed more than 32,000 people, the Gaza health ministry says.

"The Israeli government needs to stop this indiscriminate killing," Andrés said on X. "It needs to stop restricting humanitarian aid, stop killing civilians and aid workers, and stop using food as a weapon. No more innocent lives lost. Peace starts with our shared humanity. It needs to start now."

The WCK had sent three ships from Cyprus which moored offshore on Monday with 400 tons of food for the territory. It was the group's second delivery by sea. The United States, which has been airdropping aid packages into Gaza, has said it will build a floating dock off the coast to facilitate aid deliveries, although that is not expected to be ready for several more weeks.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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