'Absurd': Israel rejects claims of targeted attack on World Central Kitchen aid workers in Gaza

Seven people were killed in the Israeli airstrike.

JERUSALEM AND NEW YORK -- A senior adviser for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called claims that an Israeli strike on World Central Kitchen workers in Gaza was intentional "absurd," after the organization's founder said the deadly attack was targeted.

Seven WCK aid workers were killed during an Israel Defense Forces attack in central Gaza Monday night while traveling in a three-vehicle caravan branded with the WCK logo, the food relief organization said. The team had coordinated its movements with the IDF but was hit as it was leaving a warehouse after helping unload more than 100 tons of humanitarian aid, WCK said.

In an interview with Reuters on Wednesday, WCK founder Jose Andres claimed that Israel targeted his aid workers "systematically, car by car."

Residents inspect the damaged vehicle damaged vehicle carrying Western employees after the Israeli attack, April 2, 2024, in Deir al-Balah, Gaza.
Ali Jadallah/Anadolu via Getty Images

"This was not just a bad luck situation where 'oops' we dropped the bomb in the wrong place," the chef told Reuters.

"What I know is that we were targeted deliberately nonstop until everybody was dead in this convoy," he told Reuters.

World Central Kitchen (WCK) founder Chef Jose Andres participating remotely in an online Reuters interview from Eastern Shore, Md., in this video grab taken on April 3, 2024.
Reuters Tv/Reuters

Netanyahu's foreign policy adviser, Ophir Falk, pushed back against claims that the attack on the WCK-branded vehicles was intentional.

"That's absurd," Falk told ABC News on Wednesday. "The last thing we would want in the world is to endanger civilian lives."

Falk said the seven workers died due to "friendly fire in the middle of the night" and called the deaths a "tragic event."

"This war is a complex war," he said. "The incident happened in the middle of the night. It should not have happened. And we'll do everything possible that it doesn't happen again."

Ophir Falk, Foreign Policy Advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaks with ABC News.
ABC News

He said "we understand the outcry" from the international community over the deaths and noted that "a number of IDF soldiers" and three Israeli hostages died due to friendly fire during the war.

Israel's military chief Herzi Halevi said in a video statement late Tuesday that the airstrike was a "grave mistake" and was "not carried out with the intention of harming WCK aid workers."

Netanyahu said in a statement Tuesday that "Israel deeply regrets the tragic incident" and the IDF will conduct a "swift and transparent investigation" with the findings made public.

Andres called for a "neutral" investigation of the incident.

"Even if we were not in coordination with the [IDF], no democratic country and no military can be targeting civilians and humanitarians," he told Reuters.

Palestinians stand next to a vehicle in Deir Al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip, April 2, 2024, where employees from the World Central Kitchen (WCK), including foreigners, were killed in an Israeli airstrike, according to the NGO.
Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The victims were of multiple nationalities, with the youngest being 25-year-old Palestinian Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha.

Three were from the U.K.: John Chapman, 57; James "Jim" Henderson, 33; and James Kirby, 47.

The victims also included Damian Sobol, 35, of Poland; Jacob Flickinger, 33, a dual U.S. and Canadian citizen; and Lalzawmi "Zomi" Frankcom, 43, of Australia.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Tuesday there is no evidence IDF deliberately targeted the workers while strongly condemning the attack.

"We were outraged to learn of an IDF strike that killed a number of civilian humanitarian workers yesterday from the World Central Kitchen, which has been relentless and working to get food to those who are hungry in Gaza, and quite frankly, around the world," Kirby said.

President Joe Biden said he was "outraged" and "heartbroken" by the deaths of the seven humanitarian workers.

"They were providing food to hungry civilians in the middle of a war. They were brave and selfless. Their deaths are a tragedy," he said in a statement Tuesday.

WCK, a nongovernmental organization, has been operating in Gaza for months and has said it's served more than 33 million meals since the start of the conflict. The group said it plans to pause its operations in the region following the attack.

The group said Wednesday that it has not yet determined when it will resume operations in Gaza.

According to a report in March by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), famine is "imminent" in northern Gaza, as the entire population of the strip experiences high levels of food insecurity amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

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