World Central Kitchen pauses Gaza aid after saying foreign workers killed in Israeli strike; international leaders demand accountability

A boy holds out an empty pot as he waits with other displaced Palestinians queueing for meals provided by a charity organisation ahead of the fast-breaking “iftar” meal during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 16, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and the militant group Hamas. 

Said Khatib | Afp | Getty Images

Seven staff members of the non-profit food charity World Central Kitchen were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza overnight, the organization said in a statement Tuesday morning, leading it to pause operations in the war-ravaged territory.

“World Central Kitchen is devastated to confirm seven members of our team have been killed in an IDF strike in Gaza,” the group said. “The WCK team was traveling in a deconflicted zone in two armored cars branded with the WCK logo and a soft skin vehicle.”

“Despite coordinating movements with the IDF, the convoy was hit as it was leaving the Deir al-Balah warehouse, where the team had unloaded more than 100 tons of humanitarian food aid brought to Gaza on the maritime route.”

The WCK said it “is pausing our operations immediately in the region” and “will be making decisions about the future of our work soon.”

The Israeli Defense Forces did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment. In an early-Tuesday statement cited by the New York Times, the military said that it was “conducting a thorough review at the highest levels to understand the circumstances of this tragic incident.”

Footage of the attack’s aftermath provided by Reuters and Getty show bloodied and mangled bodies, some wearing World Central Kitchen shirts and protective gear. One photo shows a white car with the organization’s logo on its roof and a large hole blown into it.

The WCK was founded as a charity food organization in 2010 by Michelin-starred celebrity chef Jose Andres after a major earthquake hit Haiti. It has since provided hundreds of millions of meals in conflict zones around the world, including in Ukraine since Russia’s full-fledged invasion of 2022, and helped provide the first seaborne shipment of aid to Gaza from Cyprus in March.

“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. This is unforgivable,” the organization’s CEO Erin Gore said.

“Today @WCKitchen lost several of our sisters and brothers in an IDF air strike in Gaza,” WCK’s founder Andres wrote. “I am heartbroken and grieving for their families and friends and our whole WCK family … The Israeli government needs to stop this indiscriminate killing.”

According to WCK the seven aid workers killed are from Australia, Poland, United Kingdom, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada, and the Palestinian territories.

‘A human tragedy’

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed the death of 44-year-old Australian aid worker Lalzawmi Frankcom, telling press in televised comments, “This is a human tragedy that should never have occurred, that is completely unacceptable and Australia will seek full and proper accountability.”

Albanese called for a lasting cease-fire in Gaza and for more help for those suffering from “tremendous deprivation.”

Other international leaders are also demanding accountability in the aftermath of the attack. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez made a statement while visiting a Palestinian refugee camp in Amman, Jordan. WCK’s founder, Michelin-starred celebrity chef Jose Andres, is Spanish-American.

“I hope and demand that the Israeli government clarifies as soon as possible the circumstances of this brutal attack that has taken the lives of seven aid workers who were doing nothing more than helping,” Reuters reports Sanchez as saying, after visiting the Jabal el-Hussein camp for Palestinian refugees in Amman.

“It is urgent that Israel allow access to humanitarian aid in Gaza, as demanded by various international bodies, including the International Court of Justice,” the Spanish leader added.

Poland’s foreign minister similarly said he was seeking explanations from the Israeli government.

“I personally asked the Israeli ambassador @YacovLivne for urgent explanations,” Radoslaw Sikorski wrote in a post on social media platform X.

“He assured me that Poland would soon receive the results of the investigation into this tragedy,” he said, adding that Poland’s government is starting its own investigation. “I join in my condolences to the family of our brave volunteer and all civilian victims in the Gaza Strip.”