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Britons killed in Gaza aid strike remembered as heroes

An image showing John Chapman, James Kirby and James Henderson
John Chapman, James Henderson and James Kirby were all described as "valued team members" [Reuters/World Central Kitchen]

Tributes have been paid to the three British victims of an Israeli air strike in Gaza.

John Chapman, 57, James Henderson, 33, and James Kirby, 47, were among the seven World Central Kitchen (WCK) workers killed in Monday's strike.

Mr Kirby's family said he would be "remembered as a hero" and they were "incredibly proud" of what he achieved.

Mr Chapman's family said they were "devastated" and that he "died trying to help people".

As well as the three Britons, Australian national Lalzawmi Frankcom, Polish national Damian Sobol, Palestinian Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutahas and US-Canadian citizen Jacob Flickinger, were also killed.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said its crews have transported the bodies of the six foreign aid workers to Egypt via the Rafah crossing.

Mr Kirby, who was born in Bristol, had toured Bosnia and Afghanistan with the British Armed Forces before moving into work as a security consultant.

"James was always willing to lend a helping hand to anyone, even in the face of senseless violence," his family said in a statement.

"James lost his life trying to save others, he will never know what a void he has left, our family will never be the same."

Mr Kirby's cousins, Amy Roxburgh-Barry and Adam McGuire, told the BBC he was a "true friend who loved his mates and family" and "idolised his mum, who was his world and vice versa".

Hearing of his death was a "complete shock", Ms Roxburgh-Barry said. "He has died a hero."

A friend who served in Afghanistan with Mr Kirby in 2011 told the BBC that at the end of a patrol, he would make sure everyone was safe and well before thinking about himself.

"James's heart was the biggest part of his body", Mark Townsend said. "The suffering that people are obviously going through in Gaza would have made him want to do something immediately."

Mr Chapman's family said they were "devastated" to have lost an "incredible father, husband, son and brother".

"He died trying to help people and was subject to an inhumane act," they said.

"He was loved by many and will forever be a hero. He will be missed dearly".

Chris Burns, who served with Aylesbury-born Mr Chapman in the military, said he was funny and bubbly, and "got on with everybody".

Mr Henderson, from Cornwall, had served for six years in the Royal Marines before moving to security work.

He was a member of the Penryn Rugby Club, which held a gathering on Tuesday night for his close friends and teammates to share their memories of him.

"Clearly this tragic event, which has happened so far from Jimmy's hometown, will be felt for a long time by his family, friends and everyone in the local community who knew and loved him," Penryn RFC chair Matthew Gray told the BBC.

John Chapman
John Chapman's family paid tribute to an "incredible father, husband, son and brother" [PA Media]

The three Britons, all former servicemen, were acting as part of a WCK security team, working for Poole-based risk management company Solace Global.

"The men were incredibly proud of what they did and accepted the dangers involved," managing director Emily Roberts said.

The company said she drove for more than 12 hours to meet the victims' families after the firm received news of the attacks.

Solace Global non-executive director Matthew Harding said the men were "all valued team members, to whom we were very close" and their deaths were a "truly tragic loss".

He said it was a "difficult time" for the "close-knit family of an organisation," and that the company's operations room had been "live with the incident at the time".

"Our greatest feelings are with their families, their loved ones, and indeed the remainder of the Solace team," Mr Harding said.

The men had been in Gaza for just over a week because the firm regularly rotates its staff. They were due to return home in days, the BBC understands.

The men's roles as security advisers were to ensure the convoy followed its safety procedures and remained on the correct route.

Though Israel has said the attack was an accident, Mr Harding said "all accidents are avoidable with the correct control measures" and that, after reviewing the incident, he was "completely satisfied" that all safety measures were correctly taken.

The WCK convoy had just unloaded more than 100 tonnes of food aid before it was hit, according to the charity.

The organisation has said the strike happened despite "co-ordinating movements" with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Paying tribute to the victims, WCK chief executive Erin Gore said she was "heartbroken and appalled" at the "beautiful lives" lost in the attack.

The charity's founder, celebrity chef José Andrés, said the victims were "angels" and called on Israel to stop its "indiscriminate killing".

Mr Andrés told the Reuters news agency that he doesn't believe the strike was a mistake, instead that the aid workers were killed "systematically, car by car".

"Even if we were not in co-ordination with the (Israeli army), no democratic country and no military can be targeting civilians and humanitarians," he said.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the deaths "appalled" him. He demanded an investigation in a call with Israel's PM Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday.

Mr Sunak said on the call that "far too many aid workers and ordinary civilians have lost their lives in Gaza" and that the situation is "increasingly intolerable".

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer described the air strike as "outrageous and unacceptable", and called for humanitarian workers to be protected and international law to be upheld.

Israel said the strike was "unintended" and that WCK workers were not deliberately targeted.

"What happened was an absolute tragedy but I do not believe there is a systemic problem," Shimon Freedman - a spokesperson for Cogat, the Israeli agency which co-ordinates aid deliveries into Gaza - said.

He added that accurate information about the aid convoy's movements had reached the IDF.

Avi Hyman, a spokesman for the Israeli government, said: "There is an investigation which will be made public and come out in the coming days."

"Preliminary findings show that it was a tragic, tragic mistake and my heart goes out to the families involved and families of the victims. What I'll say is, it has happened in the past that Hamas and other terrorist organisations have used ambulances to transport their people."

The aid workers were travelling in cars, at least one of which was clearly marked with the World Central Kitchen logo on the roof.

James Kirby's cousin Mr McGuire said he was "angry" with the response from Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu.

"They are not soldiers, they are there to help and feed people. Making them a target is unacceptable. Their response for us as a family wasn't nice to listen to," he said.

Much of the Gaza Strip has been devastated during the Israeli military operation that began after Hamas gunmen attacked southern Israel on 7 October, killing about 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages.

About 130 of the hostages remain in captivity, at least 34 of whom are presumed dead.

More than 32,916 people have been killed in Gaza since then, the Hamas-run health ministry says.