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Middle East crisis live: Israeli military investigating after foreign aid workers killed in Gaza strike


Key events

In late March, Zomi Frankcom, the Australian aid worker killed in the strike in Gaza, appeared in a video filmed at Deir al-Balah talking about the meals being prepared for Palestinians by World Central Kitchen.

A week later, Frankcom, along with her international and Palestinian colleagues, would die in that same besieged neighbourhood of central Gaza.

WCK’s Zomi & Chef Oli are in our new Deir al-Balah kitchen where our team is cooking thousands of portions of rice with beef & vegetable stew today. We’re expanding this space so we can increase the amount of meals we produce for families in central Gaza daily. #ChefsForThePeople pic.twitter.com/dSO7GrJSOv

— World Central Kitchen (@WCKitchen) March 25, 2024

Top American and Israeli officials have held virtual talks as Washington pushes alternatives to Israeli’s anticipated ground assault in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

The more than two-and-a-half-hour meeting by secure video conference on Monday was described by both sides as constructive and productive, as Washington encourages the Israelis to avoid an all-out assault on the city, where an estimated four battalions of Hamas fighters are dispersed among more than 1.3 million civilians, the Associated Press reports.

The potential operation against the militant group in the city has exposed one of the deepest rifts between Israel and its closest ally, funder and arms supplier. The US has already openly said Israel must do more to allow food and other goods through its blockade of Gaza to avert famine.

“They agreed that they share the objective to see Hamas defeated in Rafah,” the US and Israeli teams known as the strategic consultative group said in a joint statement released by the White House.

The US side expressed its concerns with various courses of action in Rafah. The Israeli side agreed to take these concerns into account and to have follow-up discussions between experts overseen by the SCG. The follow-up discussions would include in person SCG meeting as early as next week.

The virtual meeting came a week after planned in-person talks were nixed by Netanyahu when the US didn’t veto a UN resolution that called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

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Recapping other news, thousands of angry Israelis took to the streets on Monday for the third consecutive night to demand Benjamin Netanyahu quit as Israeli prime minister.

And, Agence France-Presse reports, the demonstrators say they are not going away.

Mass protests uniting families of the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza and an anti-government street movement that failed to unseat Netanyahu last year brought Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to a standstill on Saturday and Sunday.

As thousands again gathered in Tel Aviv and outside Israel’s parliament in Jerusalem on Monday, several protesters told AFP that Netanyahu had to be forced out “to save Israel”.

Israelis set up hundreds of tents in front of the Knesset (parliament) in Jerusalem in protest against Netanyahu on Monday. Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images

“This is an existential crisis for Israel,” said Einat Avni Levi, 40, whose family had to flee from the Nirim kibbutz a little over 2km (1.25 miles) from the border barrier with Gaza.

Referring to the around 250 hostages abducted by Hamas during the 7 October attack, she said:

If someone comes and takes me from my bed, and I can’t trust my army and my government to come and rescue me, I cannot live here.

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The Israeli strike on a central Gaza convoy on Monday came as, separately, Israeli forces withdrew from al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City after a two-week raid that left most of the major medical complex in ruins, as Lorenzo Tondo in Jerusalem reports.

Hamas claimed the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) killed 400 people in the northern Gaza compound.

The report continues:

According to the IDF, the facility – Gaza City’s main hospital before the war – was used to harbour Hamas fighters. The army described the operation as one of the most successful of the nearly six-month conflict and cited the killing of of 200 militants including senior operatives. The claim they were all militants could not be confirmed.

However, the UN health agency said several hospital patients had died and dozens were put at risk during the raid. Palestinians who fled the facility described days of heavy fighting, mass arrests and forced marches past dead people, while the Hamas-run health ministry described the scale of the destruction inside the complex as “very large”.

Footage showed widespread devastation, with the facility’s main buildings reduced to burned-out husks. The hospital was now “completely out of service”, the ministry said.

Most of Gaza’s hospitals are no longer functioning, the UN has said.

See the full story here:

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We’ve launched this video report on the Gaza strike, including footage of people being transported on stretchers as ambulances flash nearby.

Israeli strike kills aid workers from the UK, Poland and Australia, say Gaza officials – video

PM names Australian aid worker killed, demands ‘full accountability’

Josh Butler

Josh Butler

Australia’s prime minister says the death of an Australian aid worker in Gaza is “completely unacceptable” and “beyond any reasonable circumstances”, saying the government will call in the Israeli ambassador and contact Israel’s government.

Anthony Albanese says Australia’s government is demanding “full accountability” over the death.

Albanese named the aid worker as Zomi Frankcom, who was working with World Central Kitchen (WCK) in Gaza. At a press conference in Brisbane, Albanese said she was doing “extraordinarily important work”.

Zomi Frankcom, an Australian aid worker who was killed in an IDF attack in Gaza
Zomi Frankcom, an Australian aid worker who was killed in an IDF attack in Gaza. Photograph: World Central Kitchen/Instagram

Four foreign nationals working for the food aid charity were killed in an Israeli strike in central Gaza, according to health officials in the occupied territory. The founder of the WCK charity confirmed on Twitter that “several” staff members had died in an Israeli airstrike.

The Australian prime minister said:

Those doing humanitarian work and civilians need to be provided with protection. Australia has had a very clear position of supporting a sustainable ceasefire … Australians want to see an end to this conflict.

This news today is tragic. Dfat [the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade] have also requested a call-in from the Israeli ambassador as well. We want full accountability for this, this is a tragedy that should never have occurred.

Albanese said the government had contacted the Israeli government directly.

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An Australian judge on the world court has called on Israel to suspend its military operation in Gaza.

Hilary Charlesworth, a distinguished international lawyer who replaced the late Australian judge James Crawford on the international court of justice, believes a suspension is required to ensure enough aid reaches civilians.

She also cautioned that such a step “only partly addresses the risk of destruction of the Palestinians in Gaza”.

Charlesworth is the only Australian woman to have served on the ICJ. Her comments come just months after the Australian government supported her re-election to the top UN court.

See the full story from Daniel Hurst here:

Japan will lift its suspension of funding to the UN Palestinian refugee agency Unrwa, Reuters quotes its foreign minister, Yoko Kamikawa, as saying.

Tokyo decided in January to suspend additional funding to the agency while it conducted an investigation into an allegation that its staff were involved in Hamas’s 7 October attack on Israel, which triggered war in Gaza .

The accusations by Israel led 16 countries including the US to pause $450m in funding to the Unrwa, throwing its operations into turmoil. The agency is the largest relief body operating in Gaza, which has been besieged by Israel since the attack.

Countries including Australia, Canada, Finland and Sweden have since restored funding to Unrwa, while several Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia have increased funding.

Japan is the sixth-biggest donor to the agency, according to the Unrwa’s 2022 data.

A correspondent for Agence France-Presse confirmed seeing five bodies with three foreign passports lying nearby at the Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir el-Balah, central Gaza, the news agency reports.

Earlier, the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry had said the bodies of four foreign aid workers and their Palestinian driver and translator were brought to the hospital after an Israeli strike targeted their vehicle.

The Israeli military said it was “conducting a thorough review”.

World Central Kitchen has been involved in delivering the aid arriving by boat from Cyprus, and in the construction of a temporary jetty in Gaza.

Two charities have organised aid deliveries by sea from Cyprus, with the second flotilla, setting sail on Saturday with about 400 tonnes of supplies – a fraction of Gaza’s needs.

Since Hamas’s unprecedented 7 October attack, Gaza has been under a near-complete blockade, and UN agencies have warned repeatedly that northern Gaza is on the verge of famine. Israel has denied responsibility.

Australia’s prime minister, Anthony Albanese, has told national broadcaster the ABC that the country’s foreign ministry is “urgently investigating” reports of the strike on a Gaza convoy.

An Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said reports of the death of an Australian aid worker were very distressing.

“We have been clear on the need for civilian lives to be protected in this conflict,” Reuters quoted the spokesperson as saying.

We have been very clear that we expect humanitarian workers in Gaza to have safe and unimpeded access to do their lifesaving work.

World Central Kitchen founder ‘heartbroken’ at deaths

José Andrés said he was “heartbroken and grieving” over the deaths in the strike.

The World Central Kitchen’s founder said on X (formerly Twitter) that the WCK “lost several of our sisters and brothers in an IDF air strike in Gaza” and that “they are not faceless … they are not nameless”.

Andrés added:

The Israeli government needs to stop this indiscriminate killing. It needs to stop restricting humanitarian aid, stop killing civilians and aid workers, and stop using food as a weapon. No more innocent lives lost. Peace starts with our shared humanity. It needs to start now.

Today @WCKitchen lost several of our sisters and brothers in an IDF air strike in Gaza. I am heartbroken and grieving for their families and friends and our whole WCK family. These are people…angels…I served alongside in Ukraine, Gaza, Turkey, Morocco, Bahamas, Indonesia. They… https://t.co/rM3xbsiQ1Q

— Chef José Andrés 🕊️🥘🍳 (@chefjoseandres) April 1, 2024

The Guardian has not been able to independently verify the source of the strike.

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A full report on the reported Gaza strike is here – by my colleague Ben Doherty:

For some background on the World Central Kitchen (WCK), the US-based charity delivers food relief and prepares meals for people in need.

It said last month it had served more than 42m meals in Gaza over 175 days.

Reuters reports that chef José Andrés started the WCK in 2010 by sending cooks and food to Haiti after an earthquake. The organisation has since delivered food for communities hit by natural disasters, refugees at the US border, healthcare workers during the Covid pandemic and people in conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza.

In its most recent post from Monday on X, the WCK said its teams mobilised across Gaza daily to distribute food to displaced Palestinians.

It said:

Our 60+ kitchens in southern and central Gaza are cooking hundreds of thousands of meals each day like this mujadara, a comforting dish of rice, lentils, and caramelised onions.

A girl carries a canvas bag filled with food aid bearing the logo of non-profit World Central Kitchen in Rafah, southern Gaza, last month. Photograph: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images
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Opening summary

Welcome to our live coverage of a reported air strike on a convoy in central Gaza that has killed four foreign nationals, according to the territory’s health officials. Here’s what we know so far:

  • The Israeli military said it was investigating after nationals from UK, Australia and Poland who were working for the World Central Kitchen were reportedly in the convoy that was struck.

  • The nationality of a fourth aid worker was not immediately known. A Palestinian translator was also reportedly killed.

  • The group were travelling in a convoy that was hit south of Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, local officials said.

  • The media office of the Hamas-run government of Gaza reported the deaths late on Monday.

  • Footage showed the bodies of the five dead at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah. Several of them wore protective body armour with the charity’s logo. Hospital staff showed the passports of three of the dead – British, Australian and Polish.

  • The source of strike could not be independently confirmed.

  • World Central Kitchen said: “This is a tragedy. Humanitarian aid workers and civilians should never be a target.”

  • A spokesperson for the Israel Defence Forces, Avichay Adraee, said it was “conducting a thorough review at the highest levels to understand the circumstances of this tragic incident”.

  • Medical officials said the group had been helping to deliver food and other supplies to northern Gaza that had arrived hours early by ship.

We’ll bring you all the latest developments on the story as they come to light.

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