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World Central Kitchen halts Gaza work after airstrike on aid convoy kills 7

A Palestinian man inspects the destroyed car used by US-based aid group World Central Kitchen that was hit by an Israeli strike in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, on Tuesday. Seven World Central Kitchen workers were killed. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI
1 of 5 | A Palestinian man inspects the destroyed car used by US-based aid group World Central Kitchen that was hit by an Israeli strike in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, on Tuesday. Seven World Central Kitchen workers were killed. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI | License Photo

April 2 (UPI) -- U.S. non-profit World Central Kitchen said Tuesday it was suspending food aid operations in Gaza after the killing of seven of its workers in an "unforgivable" Israel Defense Forces airstrike.

The food charity announced the decision in a news release as it raised the number of staff killed in the strike from four to seven.

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"World Central Kitchen is pausing operations immediately in the region. We will be making decisions about the future of our work soon," CEO Erin Gore said

Gore said the team members were on an agreed aid route in a "de-conflicted zone" in a marked convoy comprising two armored vehicles and one "soft-skinned" vehicle that was targeted even though WCK had coordinated its movements with the IDF.

The convoy was hit as it was leaving the Deir al-Balah warehouse in central Gaza, where the team had unloaded more than 100 tons of food shipped in on a recently established international maritime route from Cyprus.

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WCK said six of those killed were foreign nationals from Australia, Poland, Britain and a dual U.S.-Canadian citizen -- although the breakdown was unclear -- with the seventh victim a Palestinian.

The IDF said an in-depth investigation led by its most senior ranking officers was underway.

"The IDF makes great efforts to enable the safe passage of humanitarian aid and works in full cooperation and coordination with the WCK organization in order to support their efforts to provide food and humanitarian aid to the residents of the Gaza Strip," it said in a post on X.

Expressing sadness and shock, the United States demanded humanitarian workers delivering aid be kept safe and urged Israel to quickly get to the bottom of what happened.

"We are heartbroken and deeply troubled by the strike that killed World Central Kitchen aid workers in Gaza," White House national security spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a post on X.

"Humanitarian aid workers must be protected as they deliver aid that is desperately needed, and we urge Israel to swiftly investigate what happened."

Gore said the strike was not only an attack against WCK, but an attack on humanitarian organizations "showing up in the most dire of situations where food is being used as a weapon of war."

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"This is unforgivable," she added.

"I am heartbroken and appalled that we -- World Central Kitchen and the world -- lost beautiful lives today because of a targeted attack by the IDF.

"The love they had for feeding people, the determination they embodied to show that humanity rises above all, and the impact they made in countless lives will forever be remembered and cherished," Gore said.

Australia confirmed Tuesday that one of its citizens, Lalzawmi "Zomi" Frankcom was among those killed, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese warning he would be demanding answers.

Canberra would, he said, be expecting "full accountability" for what he said was an "completely unacceptable tragedy" that should never have occurred."

"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," he said.

The foreign ministry in Warsaw said it was in receipt of information regarding the attack and was urgently seeking confirmation of the Polish victim's identity from its Israeli counterparts.

WCK was founded in 2010 by celebrity chef Jose Andres. The organization has served more than 34 million meals in Gaza, Israel and Lebanon since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7.

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Palestinian men watch as The Open Arms maritime vessel carrying humanitarian aid approaches the coast of Gaza City on March 15, 2024. Photo by Ahmed Abd/UPI | License Photo

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