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Polish aid worker's friend remembers 'hero' killed in Israeli airstrike in Gaza

By Anna Magdalena Lubowicka

WARSAW (Reuters) - A friend of the Polish aid worker who was killed in Gaza this week paid tribute on Wednesday to a man he described as a hero whose passion was helping other people.

Damian Sobol was among seven people working for the charity World Central Kitchen (WCK) who were killed in an Israeli airstrike late on Monday, an incident that has provoked international outrage and condemnation.

"For me he is a hero," Krzysztof Butra told Reuters in an interview.

Butra and Sobol had been friends since childhood, growing up together in the southeastern Polish town of Przemysl where they lived close to each other and played football together in the same team.

"He always said if not him, then who? Someone has to go there, someone has to help these people," Butra said of his friend's commitment to aid work.

Butra said Sobol's passion for volunteering had begun with Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, when Przemysl was flooded with refugees escaping the conflict across the border.

He then worked as a volunteer in Ukraine and in Turkey following the earthquake in 2023 that devastated much of the south of the country.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on Wednesday that the deaths of the aid workers and statements by Israeli officials - which many Poles viewed as inflammatory - had caused "understandable anger" and strained relations with Israel.

The Israeli ambassador to Poland Yacov Livne said Israel had "repeatedly expressed our deep regret, sorrow and condolences over the tragic death of World Central Kitchen workers, including Damian Sobol."

For Butra, the pain of his friend's death is raw.

"It hurts. It really hurts because Damian went there to help people and feed these people," he said. "He just went there... to give them hope that things could get better, that things would get better. And they took away this hope even from him."

(Reporting by Anna Lubowicka and Karol Badohal, writing by Alan Charlish; Editing by Aurora Ellis)