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Israeli soldiers rest on top of their tank on the border with the Gaza Strip. Alamy Stock Photo
Human Rights Council

Bodies of six aid workers killed by Israel taken out of Gaza

The attack has prompted global condemnation, with US President Joe Biden saying that Israel has “not done enough to protect civilians”.


THE BODIES OF six foreign aid workers killed in an Israeli strike have been taken out of Gaza to Egypt for repatriation, a security source said, as Israel faced a chorus of outrage over their deaths.

The Israeli military killed seven staff of the US-based food charity World Central Kitchen on Monday in an attack that UN chief Antonio Guterres labelled “unconscionable” and “an inevitable result of the way the war is being conducted”.

The remains of the six international staff, who were killed alongside one Palestinian colleague, were taken in ambulances to the Rafah crossing to Egypt, where they were handed over to representatives of their respective countries, the security source said on condition of anonymity.

Israel’s armed forces chief Herzi Halevi called the attack a “grave mistake”, which he blamed on night-time “misidentification”, adding in a video message that “we are sorry for the unintentional harm to the members of WCK”.

MixCollage-03-Apr-2024-01-21-PM-2357 (from top left) Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha (25), Lalzawmi (Zomi) Frankcom (43), Damian Soból (35), Jacob Flickinger (33), John Chapman (57), James (Jim) Henderson (33), and James Kirby (47), who were killed in the Israeli air strike. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged the “tragic case” would be investigated “right to the end”, and President Isaac Herzog expressed his “deep sorrow and sincere apologies”.

The seven deaths piled more pressure on Israel, whose war since the Hamas attack of 7 October has brought devastation and mass civilian casualties to Gaza, where the UN warns the population of 2.4 million is on the brink of famine.

Draft resolution

Earlier the UN Human Rights Council said is set to consider a draft resolution on Friday calling for an arms embargo on Israel, citing the “plausible risk of genocide in Gaza”.

If the draft resolution is adopted, it would mark the first time that the United Nations’ top rights body has taken a position on the conflict in Gaza.

The text condemns “the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects by Israel” in populated areas of Gaza and demands Israel “uphold its legal responsibility to prevent genocide”.

The draft resolution was brought forward by Pakistan on behalf of 55 of the 56 UN member states in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) – the exception being Albania.

The text is co-sponsored by Bolivia, Cuba and the Palestinian mission in Geneva.

The eight-page draft demands Israel end its occupation of Palestinian territory and immediately lifts its “illegal blockade” on the Gaza Strip.

It calls upon countries to stop the sale or transfer of arms, munitions and other military equipment to Israel, citing “a plausible risk of genocide in Gaza”.

The draft also “condemns the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare”, calls for an immediate ceasefire and “condemns Israeli actions that may amount to ethnic cleansing”

‘Anger and concern’

Earlier, US President Joe Biden said he was “outraged and heartbroken” by the death of the aid workers. 

“This is not a standalone incident,” he said. “This conflict has been one of the worst in recent memory in terms of how many aid workers have been killed.

“This is a major reason why distributing humanitarian aid in Gaza has been so difficult – because Israel has not done enough to protect aid workers trying to deliver desperately needed help to civilians.

Incidents like yesterday’s simply should not happen. Israel has also not done enough to protect civilians.

Biden called for a “swift” investigation that “must bring accountability, and its findings must be made public.”

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he had voiced his “anger and concern” in a phone call with Netanyahu, while Britain summoned the Israeli ambassador and demanded “full accountability”.

Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk said the strike and the Israeli government’s reaction to the incident were straining ties between the two countries.

Directly addressing Netanyahu and Israel’s envoy to Warsaw, Tusk posted on X: “Today, you are putting this solidarity to the test. The tragic attack against volunteers and your reaction are generating an understandable anger.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the General Assembly that 196 humanitarian workers have been killed in the war.

He called the strike “unconscionable” but “an inevitable result of the way the war is being conducted”.

“It demonstrates yet again the urgent need for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.”

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell described the killing as “appalling” and urged Israel to conduct “a thorough investigation and ensure accountability for those who are responsible”. 

Pope Francis also expressed his “deep sorrow” for those killed during his weekly audience at the Vatican. 

“I pray for them and their families,” he said, while also renewing his appeal for access to humanitarian aid for the “exhausted and suffering civilian population” of Gaza, and for the hostages taken by Hamas to be released.


WCK said it was mourning the loss of its seven “heroes”, naming them as Palestinian Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, 25; Australian Lalzawmi (Zomi) Frankcom, 43; Pole Damian Sobol, 35; American-Canadian Jacob Flickinger, 33; and Brits John Chapman, 57, James (Jim) Henderson, 33, and James Kirby, 47.

“These seven beautiful souls were killed by the IDF in a strike as they were returning from a full day’s mission,” WCK CEO Erin Gore said.

The organisation called the strike a “targeted attack” and said its team had been coordinating its movements with the Israeli forces.

“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,” Gore said in an earlier statement.

Gaza has been under Israeli blockade since the start of the conflict, with the United Nations accusing Israel of preventing humanitarian aid deliveries and warning of “catastrophic” hunger.

World Central Kitchen was facilitating the provision of supplies brought by sea from Cyprus.

The charity has now suspended operations and a ship that had carried food aid from Cyprus to Gaza turned back to the Mediterranean island with around 240 tonnes of supplies that had not been unloaded.

Mass protests

The current conflict began with Hamas’s 7 October attack, which resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 32,916 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in Gaza.

Overnight, Israeli strikes killed at least 60 more people, the ministry said.

The army said its forces had “killed and apprehended a number of terrorists” in combat and an air strike, in fighting near the Al-Amal Hospital in the southern city of Khan Yunis, where they had also located numerous weapons.

Militants on 7 October also seized around 250 hostages. Israel believes about 130 remain in Gaza, including 34 who are presumed dead.

The families of the captives have staged four consecutive nights of mass protests, joined by a resurgent anti-government movement.

Thousands gathered in front of parliament Tuesday, with former prime minister Ehud Barak blaming Netanyahu for the 7 October “disaster” and demanding new elections.

The Palestinians, meanwhile, have revived their application to become a full member state in the United Nations.

In a letter to Guterres that was seen by AFP, Palestinian UN envoy Riyad Mansour requested “upon instructions of the Palestinian leadership” that an application dating back to 2011 be reconsidered this month by the Security Council.

© AFP 2024, with reporting from Jane Moore