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American-Canadian aid worker among seven killed in airstrike on Gaza as Biden poised to sell jets to Israel

Seven humanitarian aid workers, including a dual citizen of the US and Canada, have been killed by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza.

World Central Kitchen — a non-profit humanitarian aid organisation founded by celebrity chef José Andrés — said on Tuesday that seven of their members travelling in a three-car convoy branded with the organisation’s logo were killed in an airstrike by the Israeli army.

The victims were identified as Saifeddin Issam Ayab Abutaha, 25, of Palestine; Lalzawmi Frankcom, 43, of Australia; Damian Soból, 35, of Poland; Jacob Flickinger, 33, a US-Canadian dual citizen; along with UK citizens John Chapman, 57, James Henderson, 33, and James Kirby, 47.

The Israeli army launched three separate airstrikes against the convoy despite the organisation coordinating their movements with the military, World Central Kitchen said in a statement.

“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,” World Central Kitchen CEO Erin Gore said. “This is unforgivable.”

The killings have prompted international condemnation, with President Joe Biden saying he is “outraged and heartbroken” by the news.

The seven victims of the Israeli strike are pictured (World Central Kitchen/PA)
The seven victims of the Israeli strike are pictured (World Central Kitchen/PA)

“This conflict has been one of the worst in recent memory in terms of how many aid workers have been killed. This is a major reason why distributing humanitarian aid in Gaza has been so difficult – because Israel has not done enough to protect aid workers trying to deliver desperately needed help to civilians,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Israel has pledged to conduct a thorough investigation into why the aid workers’ vehicles were hit by airstrikes. That investigation must be swift, it must bring accountability, and its findings must be made public.”

The Israeli army has said that it is “carrying out an in-depth examination at the highest levels to understand the circumstances of this tragic incident”.

This car, bearing the World Central Kitchen logo, was targeted by an Israeli airstrike, the aid organisation said. (EPA)
This car, bearing the World Central Kitchen logo, was targeted by an Israeli airstrike, the aid organisation said. (EPA)

The aid World Central Kitchen was providing is particularly essential as the United Nations and other international organisations warn that famine is now closing in on Gaza. Since 7 October — when Hamas militants attacked Israel and killed some 1,200 people while taking more than 200 people hostage — more than 32,000 Palestinians have been killed since Israel began its offensive into Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Just hours before the organisation announced the deaths, reports emerged that President Joe Biden’s administration is close to securing a deal for an $18bn sale of fighter jets to Israel.

The Biden administration has been under increasing pressure from Democrats and international allies to condition any further US support for Israel on meeting certain obligations to allow in aid and do more to prevent civilian casualties.

Mr Biden’s reaction to the strike that killed an American citizen seemed tame in comparison to just two months ago when a drone strike carried out by an Iran-backed militia killed three American troops in Jordan. The president ordered airstrikes across Iraq and Syria in response, and issued a headline-making statement: “If you harm an American, we will respond.”

Speaking in Paris on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the slain aid workers “heroes” who represent “the best of what humanity has to offer.”

US-Canadian national Jacob Flickinger was among the victims killed (World Central Kitchen/WCK.org/PA Wire)
US-Canadian national Jacob Flickinger was among the victims killed (World Central Kitchen/WCK.org/PA Wire)

“They run into the fire, not away from it ... they have to be protected,” he said. “We shouldn’t have a situation where people who are simply trying to help their fellow human beings are themselves at grave risk.”

Other international leaders have also condemned the deadly strike, with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak saying he was “shocked and saddened” by their deaths and demanding an investigation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Meanwhile, Australia’s Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, confirmed Frankcom was the Australian citizen killed. Former World Central Kitchen CEO Nate Mook described her as a “shining star.”

“It is unfathomable that they are not with us any more,” he previously told The Independent.

“They were all truly dedicated to their work, trying to do what they could in the most desperate and dangerous of situations.”