© 2024 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
WOSP-FM 91.5 Portsmouth is off the air. In the meantime listen online or with the WOSU mobile app.

These are the World Central Kitchen aid workers killed by Israeli airstrike in Gaza

Relatives and friends mourn the death of Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, a member of the U.S.-based aid group World Central Kitchen who was killed as Israeli strikes hit its convoy delivering food in Gaza, during his funeral in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Tuesday.
Said Khatib
/
AFP via Getty Images
Relatives and friends mourn the death of Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, a member of the U.S.-based aid group World Central Kitchen who was killed as Israeli strikes hit its convoy delivering food in Gaza, during his funeral in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Tuesday.

Updated April 4, 2024 at 3:54 PM ET

World Central Kitchen has named the seven aid workers killed by an Israeli airstrike Monday as they were trying to deliver food to Palestinians in Gaza.

The victims were Australian, British, Palestinian, Polish and a dual citizen of the United States and Canada.

President Biden said he was "outraged" by the deaths. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was "appalled." Three of the victims were citizens of the United Kingdom.

In a video statement Wednesday, the Israeli military's chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, said "the strike was not carried out with the intention of harming 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."

The Israeli military has also praised World Central Kitchen for bringing humanitarian aid to people in Gaza, as well as to Israel after the Oct. 7 attack in the country.

But humanitarian chef José Andrés, founder of World Central Kitchen, told Reuters Wednesday he suspected Israeli forces had targeted the charity's convoy in Gaza "systematically, car by car."

The food aid charity called on governments to demand an independent investigation to find whether the attack was "carried out intentionally or otherwise violated international law."

The organization suspended its Gaza operations after the attack, and some other humanitarian groups followed suit, raising further concern for the people in Gaza in desperate need of aid. Israel's blockade and six-month assault on Gaza has fueled a growing hunger crisis in the territory, with northern Gaza facing imminent famine, international aid groups and U.N. experts warn. Israeli officials have denied restricting aid and called reports of a looming famine "a complete lie."

The bodies of the six dead foreign aid workers were transported out of Gaza into Egypt Wednesday on their way to their home countries, The Associated Press reported. The Palestinian's remains were handed over to his family to be buried in Gaza.

They were the latest of at least 196 humanitarian workers killed in Palestinian territories since October, according to the United Nations humanitarian coordinator in the region.

These are the identities of the seven World Central Kitchen workers who died.

Zomi Frankcom works with colleagues and volunteers to unload and arrange for distribution lunch casseroles <a href="https://www.npr.org/2022/04/12/1091916421/russia-ukraine-war-refugees-romania">at Gara de Nord railway station in Bucharest</a> on April 6, 2022. The Australian aid worker was among those killed by an Israeli strike in Gaza.
/ Ioana Moldovan for NPR
/
Ioana Moldovan for NPR
Zomi Frankcom works with colleagues and volunteers to unload and arrange for distribution lunch casseroles at Gara de Nord railway station in Bucharest on April 6, 2022. The Australian aid worker was among those killed by an Israeli strike in Gaza.

Australian aid worker Lalzawmi "Zomi" Frankcom, 43, a relief lead for World Central Kitchen, died "doing the work she loves," her family said in a statement to media.

She had helped people during brush fires in her native Australia, supported the Navajo Nation during the COVID-19 pandemic and fed Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia's invasion.

NPR spoke with Frankcom in 2022 in Bucharest, Romania, where she coordinated meals for Ukrainian refugees. She said she first got involved with the organization while living in Guatemala in 2018, after nearly a decade working in banking and finance. World Central Kitchen arrived to provide emergency aid to communities following a deadly volcanic eruption in the country. "It was like, 'Okay great, can you make a sandwich?' " she recalled them saying. "'Yeah, I can make a sandwich.' 'Right, come on, we're going to make 3,000 of them.' "

On Wednesday, chef Andrés posted an emotional message on social media about Frankcom.

"Dear Zomi I have no words ... but I promise you, your spirit will always be with us," he wrote on X, formerly Twitter. He went so far as to say he wished he hadn't started the charity because she would still be alive today.

Several victims had served in armed forces

All three British citizens who died had previously served in the country's military and were using their experience in conflict zones to help safeguard the work of the charity's staff members as they moved around Gaza.

The family of James Kirby, who was 47, said in a statement issued by the U.K. government that they were "incredibly proud" of his work, which included military tours in Bosnia and Afghanistan, and that he would be remembered as a hero.

But some family members have told British media Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's response — "There was a tragic case of our forces unintentionally hitting innocent people in the Gaza Strip. This happens in war." — angered them.

"They are not soldiers, they are there to help and feed people. Making them a target is unacceptable. Their response for us as a family wasn't nice to listen to," Adam McGuire, Kirby's cousin, told the BBC.

John Chapman
/ Family of John Chapman
/
Family of John Chapman
John Chapman

The family of John Chapman, who was 57, said he "died trying to help people" in what they called an "inhumane act" and would be missed.

James Henderson, 33, had served in Britain's Royal Marines before moving into civilian security work.

The Palestinian worker who was killed, Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, 25, was from the city of Rafah, in the southern part of Gaza. He had worked for World Central Kitchen as a driver and translator since the beginning of the year, the AP reported.

Polish citizen Damian Sobol, 35, was identified by a local government leader in his hometown of Przemysl on social media, saying, "There are no words to describe the feelings of people who knew this amazing young man right now... May he rest in peace."

The U.S. and Canadian dual citizen who died was Jacob Flickinger, 33. He had served as an infantryman in the Canadian armed forces before working in Mexico with World Central Kitchen.

In a statement announcing the victims' identities, World Central Kitchen CEO Erin Gore said: "These are the heroes of World Central Kitchen. These 7 beautiful souls were killed by the IDF in a strike as they were returning from a full day's mission. 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."

Governments call for accountability

Governments of the countries where the six foreign victims were from have been expressing sorrow and anger over Monday's fatal attack.

President Biden said in a statement he was "outraged and heartbroken by the deaths" and said the investigation into the case "must bring accountability."

In a rebuke to the Israeli government, Biden also said "this is not a stand-alone incident," noting the high aid worker casualties in the conflict. "Israel has not done enough to protect aid workers trying to deliver desperately needed help to civilians."

On Thursday, Biden told Prime Minister Netanyahu in a phone call that U.S. policy on the war in Gaza will be determined by whether Israel takes "a series of specific, concrete and measurable steps" to address deaths of civilians and aid workers in the territory.

Biden had a call with chef Andrés earlier in the week and expressed his condolences and support for the group's work.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a call with his Israeli counterpart he was "appalled."

"The Prime Minister said far too many aid workers and ordinary civilians have lost their lives in Gaza and the situation is increasingly intolerable," according to the U.K. government's readout from the call. "The UK expects to see immediate action by Israel to end restrictions on humanitarian aid, deconflict with the UN and aid agencies, protect civilians and repair vital infrastructure like hospitals and water networks."

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese paid tribute to Frankcom and the other aid workers, saying, "This is just completely unacceptable. Australia expects full accountability for the deaths of aid workers."

Canada's foreign minister, Mélanie Joly, said she was "horrified" by the news and said those responsible must be held accountable.

Polish President Andrzej Duda also praised the killed workers, writing on X, "These brave people changed the world for the better with their service and dedication to others. This tragedy should never have happened and must be explained."

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Willem Marx
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.