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Bodies of six aid workers killed in Israeli strike transported from Gaza as fallout grows

World Central Kitchen

(NEW YORK) — The bodies of six of the seven World Central Kitchen aid workers killed in an Israeli military missile strike this week left Gaza on Wednesday, hospital officials said, as the fallout from the deadly incident continues to grow.

The bodies were taken by ambulance from the Abu Youssef Al-Najjar Hospital morgue in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, hospital officials said, beginning the long journeys home to their respective countries around the globe.

“On this day, as we bid farewell to martyrs of foreign nationalities — three martyrs of the humanitarian duty of British nationality, one American, one Australian, and one Polish — 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.

Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, 25, the seventh aid worker killed in the strike, was laid to rest in Gaza on Tuesday, according to reports. 

The aid workers, ranging in age from 25 to 57, were killed Monday night when their three-vehicle convoy, including two armored cars, was hit after leaving the Deir al-Balah warehouse in central Gaza, where the aid workers had helped unload more than 100 tons of humanitarian aid brought to Gaza on the maritime route, according to the statement from WCK, a humanitarian organization dedicated to delivering food aid.

Herzi Halevi, chief of the Israel Defense Forces, said in a video statement Tuesday that the airstrike that killed the aid workers was a “grave mistake” and was “not carried out with the intention of harming the WCK aid workers.”

“It was a mistake that followed a misidentification at night, during a war, in very complex conditions. It shouldn’t have happened,” Halevi said. “This incident was a grave mistake. Israel is at war with Hamas, not with the people of Gaza. We are sorry for the unintentional harm to the members of WCK.”

Halevi’s statement echoed those of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli military and government officials, who promised that Israel would conduct a thorough and transparent investigation of the missile strike.

In addition to Abutaha, the WCK aid workers killed in the strike were identified as Damian Sobol, 35, of Poland; Jacob Flickinger, 33, a duel U.S.-Canada citizen; and Lalzawmi “Zomi” Frankcom, 43, of Australia. Also killed were three members of the WCK security team, John Chapman, 57, James (Jim) Henderson, 33, and James Kirby, 47, all of Great Britain.

In a statement identifying the seven aid workers, WCK CEO Erin Gore described them as “the heroes of World Central Kitchen.”

“These seven beautiful souls were killed by the IDF in a strike as they were returning from a full day’s mission,” Gore said. “Their smiles, laughter, and voices are forever embedded in our memories. And we have countless memories of them giving their best selves to the world. We are reeling from our loss, the world’s loss.”

President Joe Biden said in a statement Tuesday that he is “outraged” and “heartbroken” by the deaths of the aid workers.

“They were providing food to hungry civilians in the middle of a war,” Biden said. “They were brave and selfless. Their deaths are a tragedy.”

Ophir Falk, a foreign policy advisor to Netanyahu, called allegations that the aid workers were deliberately targeted “absurd.”

“The last thing we would want in the world is to endanger civilian lives. We seek to minimize civilian casualties,” Falk said. “The last thing we would want is for humanitarian aid workers to be, to be harmed. And we go to great lengths to minimize civilian casualties. This war is a complex war. The incident happened in the middle of the night. It should not have happened. And we’ll do everything possible so that it doesn’t happen again.”

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