Morgue in Rafah

Bodies of foreign aid workers killed in Israeli airstrike moved toward repatriation

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The bodies of six foreign aid workers killed in an Israeli airstrike were moved Wednesday to Egypt for repatriation to their homelands, while Israel faced wide condemnation for their deaths.

A total of seven staff members of the U.S.-based food charity World Central Kitchen were killed in the late Monday airstrike that United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said was “unconscionable” and “an inevitable result of the way the war is being conducted.”

U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are scheduled to speak Thursday, according to a U.S. official familiar with planning for the call. The official was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss plans for the call.

The White House is growing increasingly frustrated with how Israel is conducting the war and in the aftermath of Monday’s airstrikes.

The remains of three British citizens, a Polish citizen, an Australian and a Canadian American dual citizen were taken in ambulances to the Rafah crossing with Egypt, where they were handed over to representatives of their respective countries. Their Palestinian driver was also killed in the attack and his body turned over to his family for burial in Gaza.

The seven were distributing food to famished Palestinians that had been transported into Gaza through a newly established maritime corridor when Israeli airstrikes mistakenly targeted their three vehicles, killing everyone inside.

Israel’s armed forces chief Herzi Halevi called the attack a “grave mistake,” which he blamed on nighttime “misidentification,” adding in a video message, “We are sorry for the unintentional harm to the members” of the World Central Kitchen.

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

In an op-ed published by Israel’s large Yediot Ahronot newspaper on Wednesday, Jose Andres, the celebrity chef who is the founder of the food charity, wrote, “The Israeli government needs to open land routes to food and medicine today. It needs to stop killing civilians and aid workers today.”

FILE - Chef Jose Andres gets ready with members of his World Central Kitchen team to load meals to deliver to needy people in downtown Washington, March 31, 2020.
FILE – Chef Jose Andres gets ready with members of his World Central Kitchen team to load meals to deliver to needy people in downtown Washington, March 31, 2020.

Andres, whose organization has provided aid in war and disaster zones all over the world, including to Israelis after Hamas’s shock October 7 attack that triggered the war, said the airstrikes that killed the workers “were not just some unfortunate mistake in the fog of war.”

“It was a direct attack on clearly marked vehicles whose movements were known by” the Israeli military,” Andres wrote. “It was also the direct result of (the Israeli) government’s policy to squeeze humanitarian aid to desperate levels.”

In a similar essay in The New York Times, he said, “In the worst conditions, after the worst terrorist attack in its history, it’s time for the best of Israel to show up. You cannot save the hostages by bombing every building in Gaza. You cannot win this war by starving an entire population.”

Biden said late Tuesday he was “outraged and heartbroken” by the attack.

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

The U.S. leader said Tuesday’s attack was not a stand-alone incident, and that Israel “has not done enough to protect aid workers trying to deliver desperately needed help to civilians.”

“The United States will continue to do all we can to deliver humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians in Gaza, through all available means,” Biden said. “I will continue to press Israel to do more to facilitate that aid. And we are pushing hard for an immediate cease-fire as part of a hostage deal.”

World Central Kitchen said it was immediately pausing its humanitarian efforts in the region.

The charity said in a statement that it had completed a delivery of 100 tons of food aid to a warehouse in Deir al-Balah, and that a convoy of armored cars with the group’s logo was leaving the site when it was struck.

World Central Kitchen said the group had coordinated its movements in advance with the Israeli military.

The Hamas October attack on Israel killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli tallies, and led to the capture of about 250 hostages.

Israel’s counteroffensive in Gaza has killed at least 32,975 people, two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. The Israeli military says one-third of those killed have been militants.

Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.