Deaths of aid workers in Gaza unacceptable, Foreign Secretary says

The deaths of aid workers in Gaza are “completely unacceptable”, Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron said, as he called on Israel to explain what happened in the airstrike.

Three British nationals were among those killed, alongside an Australian, a Polish national, an American-Canadian dual citizen and a Palestinian.

Lord Cameron said he had spoken to his Israeli counterpart, Israel Katz, to stress the need for “major changes” to ensure the safety of aid workers.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was “shocked and saddened” by reports that seven World Central Kitchen (WCK) aid workers were killed in Gaza on Monday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the aid workers were killed by an “unintended strike” by Israeli forces.

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.”

Mr Sunak told broadcasters during a visit to the north east of England: “We are asking Israel to investigate what happened urgently, because clearly there are questions that need to be answered.”

He added: “My thoughts are with their friends and family.

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

“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.”

The 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, WCK said.

The aid workers reportedly travelled in two armoured cars branded with the WCK logo and a soft-skin vehicle.

A man displays blood-stained British, Polish, and Australian passports after the air strike
A man displays blood-stained British, Polish, and Australian passports after the air strike (Abdel Kareem Hana/AP)

WCK immediately suspended operations in the region.

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

The Labour leader said: “Reports of the death of British nationals, among others from World Central Kitchen, in an Israeli strike on Gaza are horrifying. Our thoughts are with the families of all 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.

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 (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“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.

“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 were “checking this thoroughly” and “will do everything for this not to happen again”.

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

Former national security adviser Lord Ricketts said Israel is “not paying attention” to its international humanitarian law obligations and called for arms sales to be suspended.

The independent crossbench peer told Sky’s Trevor Phillips: “I would like to see at this point the UK decide that they are going to suspend arms export licences to Israel.

“I think there is enough now that Israel is, to put it diplomatically, not paying attention to its international humanitarian law obligations to protect civilians, to protect humanitarian workers and medical workers.

“And I think each time there is another of these horrors, they must be getting closer to the point where the Americans start putting some restrictions on their arms.”

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) “expressed the deepest condolences” to the families of the aid workers, and said it was “reviewing the incident at the highest levels”.

An IDF spokesman said: “Last night, an incident took place in Gaza that resulted in the tragic death of World Central Kitchen employees as they fulfilled their vital mission of bringing food to people in need.

“As a professional military committed to international law, we are committed to examining our operations thoroughly and transparently.

“I just spoke to WCK founder, chef Jose Anders, and expressed the deepest condolences of the Israel Defence Forces to the families and the entire World Central Kitchen family.

“We also express sincere sorrow to our allied nations who have been doing and continue to do so much to assist those in need.

“We will be opening a probe to examine this serious incident further.

Israel-Hamas conflict
A woman cries while taking part in Stop the Genocide in Gaza national demonstration in central London (Victoria Jones/PA)

“This will help us reduce the risk of such an event from occurring again.

“The incident will be investigated in the fact finding and assessment mechanism, an independent, professional and expert body.”

Humanitarian organisation the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said the operation to recover the seven bodies took “several hours”.

A spokesperson said in a statement: “In a challenging operation spanning several hours, teams from the Palestinian Red Crescent Society successfully recovered the bodies of the seven World Central Kitchen employees this morning.

“They were targeted by Israeli occupation forces yesterday evening while travelling in vehicles owned by the kitchen in Deir al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip.

“Two of the bodies were initially missing, but were later located and retrieved by the PRCS teams.

“Subsequently, all seven bodies were transported to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah and then to Abu Yousef al-Najjar Hospital in preparation for their evacuation through the Rafah border crossing.”

WCK chief executive Erin Gore said: “This is not only an attack against WCK, this is an attack on humanitarian organisations showing up in the most dire of situations where food is being used as a weapon of war. This is unforgivable.

“I am heartbroken and appalled that we, World Central Kitchen and the world, lost beautiful lives today because of a targeted attack by the IDF.”

Australian Zomi Frankcom, right, one of the seven aid workers from World Central Kitchen killed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza on Monday, poses for a picture with Mikolaj Rykowski, president of the Free Place Foundation
Australian Zomi Frankcom, right, one of the seven aid workers from World Central Kitchen killed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza on Monday, poses for a picture with Mikolaj Rykowski, president of the Free Place Foundation (Free Place Foundation’s Facebook via AP)

Alicia Kearns, chairwoman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, told the PA news agency that there must be a “thorough and swift” investigation into the incident.

She added: “There is also still no explanation for the bombing of the Medical Aid for Palestine complex in a safe zone, which had also been deconflicted directly with the IDF in January, which four British doctors fortunately survived.

“Humanitarian agencies must be given the assurances they need that their people will be protected.”

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese paid tribute to Australian aid worker Zomi Frankcom, 44, who was among the dead, while the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs said reports that a Polish national died are “credible”.