UK

Aid workers killed in Gaza were ‘heroes’, says charity as British victims named

John Chapman, James Henderson and James Kirby died during an air strike in Gaza on Monday evening.

People inspect the site where World Central Kitchen workers were killed in Deir al-Balah on the Gaza Strip. (Abdel Kareem Hana/AP)
APTOPIX Israel Palestinians People inspect the site where World Central Kitchen workers were killed in Deir al-Balah on the Gaza Strip. (Abdel Kareem Hana/AP) (Abdel Kareem Hana/AP)

Seven aid workers, including three Britons, who were killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza will be remembered as “heroes”, the charity’s chief executive has said.

British victims John Chapman, 57, James “Jim” Henderson, 33, and James Kirby, 47, were part of the World Central Kitchen (WCK) security team.

They died alongside American-Canadian dual citizen Jacob Flickinger, 33, Australian national Lalzawmi “Zomi” Frankcom, 43, who was the leader of the relief team, Polish national Damian Sobol, 35, and Palestinian Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, 25.

The charity’s chief executive Erin Gore said: “These are the heroes of World Central Kitchen.

“These seven beautiful souls were killed by the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) 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.”

The World Central Kitchen (WCK) convoy was hit as it was leaving the Deir al-Balah warehouse, where the team had unloaded more than 100 tonnes of humanitarian food aid taken to Gaza on the maritime route, the charity said.

WCK immediately suspended operations in the region.

During a phone call with Israel’s prime minister, Rishi Sunak said he was appalled by the killings and demanded a thorough and transparent independent investigation.

Announcing the results of a preliminary investigation early Wednesday, Lt Gen Herzi Halevi said: “It was a mistake that followed a misidentification – at night during a war in very complex conditions. It shouldn’t have happened.”

He added that an independent body would conduct a “thorough investigation” which is to be completed in the coming days.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had confirmed Israeli forces were behind the “unintended strike” earlier on Tuesday.

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron said the killings were “completely unacceptable” as he pressed Israel for “major changes” to ensure the safety of aid workers.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “The Prime Minister spoke to Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu this evening.

“He said he was appalled by the killing of aid workers, including three British nationals, in an air strike in Gaza yesterday and demanded a thorough and transparent independent investigation into what happened.

“The Prime Minister said far too many aid workers and ordinary civilians have lost their lives in Gaza and the situation is increasingly intolerable.

“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.

“The Prime Minister reiterated that Israel’s rightful aim of defeating Hamas would not be achieved by allowing a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.”

Lord Cameron said in a post on X, formerly Twitter: “I spoke with Israeli FM @Israel_Katz to underline that the deaths of @WCKitchen aid workers in Gaza, including three British Nationals, are completely unacceptable.

“Israel must urgently explain how this happened & make major changes to ensure safety of aid workers on the ground.”

The Foreign Secretary is attending a Nato foreign ministers’ meeting on Wednesday, where he is expected to encourage allies to “step up and spend more on defence”.

Earlier on Tuesday, during a visit to the north east of England, Mr Sunak told broadcasters Israel was being asked to to investigate the incident urgently.

He said his thoughts were with the friends and family of those killed and Israel should ensure aid workers could carry out their work “unhindered”.

“They are doing fantastic work bringing alleviation to the suffering that many are experiencing in Gaza,” he said.

“They should be praised and commended for what they are doing.

“They need to be allowed to do that work unhindered and it is incumbent on Israel to make sure they can do that.”

Sir Keir Starmer has called for international law to be upheld as he described the deaths as “outrageous and unacceptable”.

A member of the World Central Kitchen prepares a pallet with the humanitarian aid for transport to the port of Larnaca from where it was intended for shipping to Gaza (Petros Karadjias/AP)
Gaza World Central Kitchen Explainer A member of the World Central Kitchen prepares a pallet with the humanitarian aid for transport to the port of Larnaca from where it was intended for shipping to Gaza (Petros Karadjias/AP) (Petros Karadjias/AP)

The Labour leader said the deaths were “horrifying” and his thoughts were with the families of those killed.

“We condemn this strike. There must be a full investigation and those responsible must be held to account.

“Humanitarian workers put their lives in danger to serve others. Their deaths are outrageous and unacceptable and it is not the first time aid workers have come under fire in Israel’s campaign.

“International law must be upheld and humanitarian workers must be protected so that they can deliver the aid that is so desperately needed.

“This war must stop now. Far too many innocent people have died in this conflict and more than a million are facing starvation.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the aid workers were killed by an ‘unintended strike’ by Israeli forces
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the aid workers were killed by an 'unintended strike' by Israeli forces Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the aid workers were killed by an ‘unintended strike’ by Israeli forces

“Labour repeats our call for an immediate ceasefire, the immediate release of all hostages and full humanitarian access into Gaza.”

Mr Netanyahu said in a statement: “Unfortunately, over the last day, there was a tragic incident of an unintended strike of our forces on innocent people in the Gaza Strip.”

He said officials “will do everything for this not to happen again”.

US President Joe Biden said he was “outraged and heartbroken” by the deaths and said he had spoken to WCK founder Jose Andres.

“Israel has not done enough to protect aid workers trying to deliver desperately needed help to civilians,” he said.

“Incidents like yesterday’s simply should not happen. Israel has also not done enough to protect civilians.”

He said an Israeli investigation “must be swift, it must bring accountability and its findings must be made public”.