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Aid workers, including at least one Catholic, killed in Gaza

World Central Kitchen expressed anger over the deaths of seven workers in an Israeli strike, impacting humanitarian efforts
Relatives and friends mourn by the body of Saif Abu Taha, a staff member of the US-based aid group World Central Kitchen who was killed as Israeli strikes hit a convoy of the NGO delivering food aid in Gaza a day earlier, during his funeral in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 2.

Relatives and friends mourn by the body of Saif Abu Taha, a staff member of the US-based aid group World Central Kitchen who was killed as Israeli strikes hit a convoy of the NGO delivering food aid in Gaza a day earlier, during his funeral in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 2. (Photo: AFP)

Published: April 03, 2024 05:51 AM GMT
Updated: April 03, 2024 05:55 AM GMT

World Central Kitchen, a humanitarian organization that delivers food in war-torn countries, expressed outrage after seven of its workers were killed in an Israeli missile strike in Gaza.

In an April 2 statement, the WCK, which was founded by celebrity Catholic chef José Andrés, said the workers were leaving the Deir al-Balah warehouse after delivering 100 tons of humanitarian food in "two armored cars branded with the WCK logo" when the attack happened.

The organization said that despite coordinating the delivery with the Israeli military, the convoy was struck in an apparent "targeted attack by the IDF," or Israeli Defense Forces, on April 1.

WCK CEO Erin Gore said she was "heartbroken and appalled" by the killing of the aid workers who hailed from Australia, Poland, United Kingdom, as well as "a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada, and Palestine."

"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," Gore said.

The relief organization said that due to the attack, it would pause their operations in the region "immediately."

In a video message, Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari expressed his condolences "to the entire World Central Kitchen family" and said that the IDF will open an independent probe "to examine this serious incident further."

"This will help us reduce the risk of such an event from occurring again," Hagari said.

"Unfortunately in the last day there was a tragic incident where our forces unintentionally struck innocent people in the Gaza strip," said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu April 2. "It happens in war, and we are thoroughly investigating it."

Damian Soból from Poland was among the seven humanitarian aid workers killed in the Israeli strike.

"He never feared anything," Krzysztof Rodzen, his friend from the Polish city of Przemysl, bordering Ukraine, told OSV News.

Soból was a Catholic "and a man who would help anyone even for the price of his own life," he said.

"It all started with the war in Ukraine. Earlier he was part of the team building a hospice in Przemysl, but once the war started, he dropped everything and went to help with World Central Kitchen," Rodzen said of his friend.

Soból also participated in humanitarian efforts in Morocco and Turkey after deadly earthquakes in 2023.

In a March 2 video posted by WCK on X, formerly known as Twitter, Soból was passionately talking about the water treatment system they've built on the roof of their Gaza kitchen.

"With this equipment we're able to produce all the clean water needed to prepare tens of thousands of meals daily for displaced Palestinians," the post said.

"There was something particular in his last visit after Christmas," Rodzen said. "He brought souvenirs for everyone, like he wanted to say goodbye," his friend mentioned, with his voice filled with sadness.

"Damian was not a soldier. I am a soldier, and I don't know whether I would have courage as big as he had to help people in need," Rodzen underlined.

The attack on the WCK convoy is not the first time that the Israeli military has been accused of targeting humanitarian aid workers in Gaza.

In December, Thomas White, the director of the UNRWA, the United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees, said that a U.N. aid convoy was fired on by Israeli soldiers as it "returned from Northern Gaza along a route designated by the Israeli Army."

According to the Associated Press, Israeli troops were also accused of firing on Palestinians attempting to obtain food from an aid convoy. Israel said most of the 100 people who died Feb. 29 were killed in a stampede, and the soldiers fired only when they felt threatened by the crowd.

The attack comes amid increasing calls for a ceasefire by world and religious leaders.

Before delivering his "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world) blessing on March 31, Pope Francis called for an "immediate ceasefire" as well as the release of the hostages seized by Hamas and "that access to humanitarian aid be ensured to Gaza."

In his homily during Easter Sunday Mass March 31, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, also lamented the war that "never seems to end."

"The only strong and decisive voice seems to be that of weapons," Cardinal Pizzaballa said. "In vain have been the many attempts to cease hostilities. Useless seem to be the calls for cease-fire, which tried to resolve the conflict in a different way than with weapons."

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