Bodies of foreign aid workers brought out of Gaza

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 strike late on Monday night hit a convoy of three vehicles and killed seven staff of the aid group World Central Kitchen (WCK), including citizens of Australia, Britain, and Poland, a dual citizen of the US and Canada as well as a Palestinian colleague, who was buried at his home.

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 told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Their deaths prompted a wave of condemnation from some of Israel’s closest allies, including US President Joe Biden, who said he was “outraged” by what he said was “not a stand-alone incident”.

More than 2 million people in Gaza are now almost completely reliant on aid shipments almost six months into Israel’s devastating siege and invasion of the territory triggered by Hamas’ 7 October cross-border attack.

In Gaza, there were calls for stronger action to stop Israel continuing with a military campaign that local health authorities say has killed more than 32,000 people.

“This is a sign that the weapons provided by the British and American governments in support of the Israeli occupation army in weapons, money, and equipment do not differentiate between Palestinians and other nationalities,” said Marwan Al-Hams, director of the Abu Youssef Al-Najjar Hospital in Rafah.

The bodies of the foreign aid workers were handed over to UN officials at the Egyptian border for transport home.

Israel’s defence chief says strike killing aid workers was ‘grave mistake’

Israel’s defence chief said the strike was a “grave mistake”, after the deaths prompted a chorus of international outrage.

“This incident was a grave mistake,” IDF chief Herzi Halevi said in a video message after the strike that hit a World Central Kitchen (WCK) convoy delivering aid on Monday.

“It shouldn’t have happened,” Mr Halevi said, as he blamed the strike on a night time “misidentification”.

“We are sorry for the unintentional harm to the members of WCK,” he added.

UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said today that the UN had suspended movements at night for at least 48 hours to evaluate security issues following the killing of the WCK staff.

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Since the October start of the war, the US-based charity had been involved in feeding displaced Gazans, and was one of two organisations spearheading the delivery of food aid arriving by sea.

The employees killed on Monday had just unloaded “more than 100 tons of humanitarian food aid brought to Gaza on the maritime route,” WCK said.

The attack, which killed Australian, British, Palestinian, Polish and US-Canadian staff, was widely condemned, with world leaders demanding an investigation.

Seven aid workers were killed in the strike (Credit: World Central Kitchen)

In a strongly worded statement, Mr Biden said Israel “has not done enough to protect aid workers trying to deliver desperately needed help to civilians”.

He called for a “swift” investigation to bring accountability to what he said was not a “stand alone incident”.

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.”

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

“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 vehicle the aid workers were travelling in was hit by Israeli fire

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

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

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the military had “unintentionally” killed the aid workers, calling it a “tragic case” that would be investigated “right to the end”.

He did not, however, apologise.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he spoke to Mr Netanyahu by phone, raising his “anger and concern”.

Britain summoned the Israeli ambassador to London and demanded “full accountability”.

And Poland demanded compensation for the families of the killed aid workers.

Charity says Israel cannot be trusted

The CEO of Action Aid Ireland, which has staff on the ground in Gaza, has said Israel “cannot be trusted” as she called for an immediate ceasefire.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Karol Balfe said Action Aid Ireland’s partners will continue their work to provide humanitarian aid despite the attack.

“I think it is clear that Israel cannot be trusted in this war in Gaza, so we need to see more international pressure to protect civilians and protect aid workers,” she said.

Ms Balfe said: “It was clear from the convoy that went out for the World Central Kitchen they had given co-ordination; they were in a zone that was supposed to be safe.

“It seems very unlikely that Israel didn’t know they were aid workers, there can be no justification whatsoever for the attack that occurred.”

Draft resolution on Israel arms embargo

Meanwhile, the UN Human Rights Council will 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 war in Gaza.

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

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

Friday marks the last day of the current council session.

An injured child is treated on the floor of the hospital in Deir al-Balah after an Israeli air strike

The eight-page draft demands that Israel end its occupation of Palestinian territory and immediately lifts its “illegal blockade” on Gaza and all other forms of “collective punishment”.

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 “condemns the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects by Israel in populated areas in Gaza” and voices grave concern at the effects of explosive weapons on hospitals, schools, water, electricity and shelter in Gaza.

It also “condemns the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare”.

The draft resolution also calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and “condemns Israeli actions that may amount to ethnic cleansing”, urging all states to prevent the forcible transfer of Palestinians within Gaza.

There are 47 countries serving on the Human Rights Council – among them 18 states which brought forward the draft resolution.

For an outright majority, 34 votes are needed. However, resolutions can pass with fewer votes due to abstentions.

Israel has long accused the Human Rights Council of being biased against it.

Ex-Israeli PM calls for Gaza withdrawl

Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, meanwhile, has called for the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, saying that Israel has “won the war” and that Israel should “end the war” by pulling its forces out of the Palestinian territory.

He said he felt “terrible” about the attack on the WCK aid workers, and that “as an Israeli, I feel that I have to apologise”.

Mr Olmert said the attack by Israeli forces was “probably mistakenly done”.

He told RTÉ’s Drivetime: “I have no doubt that no one had any intention of killing those people.

“But still, this is a terrible thing, it should be investigated and those found responsible should be held accountable.”

Israel bombardment

The aid workers’ deaths come as relentless Israeli strikes continue to pound the territory, flattening critical infrastructure, all but collapsing the health system and pushing more than half the population to the brink of famine.

Overnight, Israeli strikes killed at least 60 people, the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said.

Mr Netanyahu has promised to push on with the war to destroy Hamas despite nightly protests demanding he step down.

The bloodiest-ever Gaza war erupted with Hamas’s 7 October attack, which resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 32,975 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.

During their attack on Israel, Palestinian militants also seized around 250 hostages. Israel believes about 130 remain in Gaza, including 34 who are presumed dead.

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