Picked off one by one, the three British ex-forces heroes who became Israeli targets in airstrike on food charity vehicles in Gaza: How disaster unfolded step by step - as 'shocked' Sunak demands answers but Netanyahu insists 'this happens in war'

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Late on Monday night three cars from the World Central Kitchen pulled out of the organisation's warehouse in Gaza to distribute aid to Palestinians.

Each vehicle was clearly marked as working for the humanitarian organisation, followed an IDF-approved route and had GPS trackers and SOS beacons broadcasting their positions.

But despite taking every precaution, the seven brave volunteers inside the cars were being watched – and were soon deemed hostile targets and eliminated.

Among the doomed passengers were former Royal Marine James Henderson, 33; former SBS soldier John Chapman, 57; as well as a British military veteran named last night by the BBC as James Kirby.

Each were well-versed in operating in the most hostile environments on the planet and would have briefed the IDF of their exact movements and plans that night.

James Henderson, 33, was travelling in a clearly marked car operated by World Central Kitchen, a charity providing meals to Palestinians in the war torn enclave, when the convoy was hit with three missiles fired by an IDF drone

John Chapman (pictured) and James Henderson were travelling in a clearly marked car operated by World Central Kitchen (WCK), a charity providing meals to Palestinians in the war-torn enclave, when the convoy was hit with three missiles fired by an IDF drone

Images of the passports of Mr Chapman and Mr Henderson, which were found at the scene, were shared after their deaths

Palestinians inspect a vehicle with the logo of the World Central Kitchen that was wrecked by an Israeli airstrike in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip

The Spanish chef behind charity feeding the people of Gaza 

By Sam Greenhill Chief Reporter 

Chef José Andrés, the Founder and Chief Feeding Officer for World Central Kitchen

In disaster zones there are always people going hungry – and World Central Kitchen’s ethos is to feed them ‘not tomorrow, today’.

Set up by restaurateur José Andrés, the charity provides healthy meals to families in need all over the world. Flamboyant chef Mr Andrés has made it his life’s mission to set up field kitchens in some of the world’s most dangerous spots.

He said: ‘When you need medical service, you bring doctors and nurses. When you need the rebuilding of infrastructure, you bring in engineers and architects. And if you have to feed people, you need professional chefs.’ 

Born in Spain, Mr Andrés moved to New York aged 21 with just $50 (£40) in his wallet – he went on to own several restaurants across the U.S.

After the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010, he flew there to cook alongside families made homeless who were living in a camp, learning from them in order to create proper comfort food for survivors of a crisis.

Since then, WCK has expanded to serve more than 350million hot meals following hurricanes, wildfires, tsunamis, volcano eruptions and wars around the world, including Gaza.

WCK said its team in Gaza has operated there for nearly six months and supplied more than 42 million meals to Palestinians.

They were accompanying Polish aid worker Damian Sobol and his Australian colleague Lalzawmi Frankcom, as well as a US-Canadian dual national and a local driver, Saif Abu Taha.

Israeli forces had seen the volunteers entering the main distribution hub in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza, with a larger convoy to collect the aid.

A member of the IDF unit had identified an armed man as a potential threat on one of the trucks that had accompanied the three humanitarian vehicles, a security source told Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

While neither the suspect nor the truck left with the World Central Kitchen (WCK) cars, a Hermes 450 drone was scrambled to follow them. Two of the cars had some form of armour plating, while the third was a 'soft-skinned' 4x4, and all of them had clear WCK markings on the roof and doors.

Despite this, the IDF unit responsible for securing the area ordered UAV operators to attack one of the vehicles shortly before midnight.

It deployed a precision R9X Hellfire missile which smashed into one of the armoured cars. Passengers were seen scrambling from the wreckage and jumping into the other two vehicles.

They informed authorities monitoring their movements that they had been hit and sped off.

After travelling just 900 metres the Hermes 450 fired once more. The second armoured car was hit, leaving just the soft-skinned 4x4 remaining. Surviving passengers loaded the wounded into the final vehicle and pulled away.

But having made it 1.5km further along the coastal road the UAV fired for a third time – blasting the remaining vehicle to bits.

Local Nael Eliyan, living in a tent yards away, sprinted to the wreckage. 'Their injuries were serious and they died quickly,' he said.

Harrowing pictures showed how a huge hole had been blown in the roof of one car, with its interior torn to shreds. Another vehicle was missing most of its rear end.

By 1am local time images were being shared on social media showing the bloodied corpses of the seven victims laid out in a nearby building. There were also images of the passports of Mr Chapman and Mr Henderson, which were found at the scene.

As news of the 'unforgivable' disaster spread, loved ones around the world began to pay tribute. Relatives of Mr Henderson in Falmouth, Cornwall, heard of his death on Tuesday morning.

A friend told the Mail: 'He hadn't been out there long, only a couple of weeks. He was a lovely lad.'

Polish World Central Kitchen and aid worker Damian Sobol, who was killed by Israeli airstrike in Gaza

Lalzawmi 'Zomi' Frankcom died 'doing the work she loves', her family said in a statement

Relatives and friends carry the body of Saif Abu Taha, a staff member of World Central Kitchen who was killed in the strikes

Palestinians are standing next to a vehicle in Deir Al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip, on April 2, 2024, where employees from the World Central Kitchen (WCK), including foreigners, were killed in an Israeli airstrike

Heavily damaged vehicle of the officials working at the US-based international volunteer aid organisation World Central Kitchen (WCK)

Mr Henderson had served in the Royal Marines for six years before going to work for security contractors. He and the other two British men were reportedly working for Solace Global, a security firm based in Poole, Dorset.

Mr Chapman, a former Royal Marine and SBS soldier, lived nearby with his wife and their two children. Mrs Chapman was too upset to talk last night.  

A former comrade told The Sun: 'He was a very well liked guy, a very popular bloke and this is a huge loss for his family, his friends and for the veteran community.

'People trying to deliver aid into Gaza are doing the right thing and they need support and protection from people like John and his colleagues.'

Hundreds gathered in Gaza to mourn the driver, Saif Abu Taha, whose body was transported to Rafah, his home town, where his relatives and friends carried him on their shoulders.

A close friend who gave his name as Hassan said: 'Our hearts are broken by your death, Saif. You have hurt us with your passing, and we will not forget you.'

Lalzawmi Frankcom died 'doing the work she loves', her family said in a statement.

The aid worker, who was from Melbourne, Australia was described as a 'kind, selfless and outstanding human being [who] travelled the world helping others in their time of need'.

Damian Sobol, from Przemysl in south-eastern Poland, was described in a Facebook post as a 'fantastic boy' by the city's mayor, who said that words could not describe how those who had known him were feeling.

More than 196 aid workers have been killed in Gaza since October, according to the US-funded Aid Worker Security Database, which records major incidents of violence against aid personnel.

Saif Issam Abu Taha, the Palestinian driver of the World Central Kitchen delegation, was also among the dead

Damian Sobol, from Przemysl in south-eastern Poland, was described in a Facebook post as a 'fantastic boy' by the city's mayor

Aid worker Zomi Frankcom, who was from Melbourne, Australia was described as a 'kind, selfless and outstanding human being [who] travelled the world helping others in their time of need'

Horrific photographs showed how a huge hole had been blown in the roof of one car, with the vehicle's interior torn to shreds by the force of the blast

Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged that Israeli forces were to blame, saying the aid workers had been killed by an 'unintended strike'. He said officials were 'checking thoroughly' what had happened.

But aid agencies accused Israel of deliberately targeting their staff. And Mr Netanyahu was last night under intense pressure to explain why the attack happened – and to guarantee that there will be no further strikes against aid workers.

Ships carrying 240 tonnes of food aid were yesterday reported to have turned back from Gaza in the wake of the bombing, adding to the humanitarian crisis in the narrow strip of land.

Rishi Sunak last night told Mr Netanyahu he was 'appalled by the killing of aid workers'. In a phone conversation the Prime Minister demanded a 'thorough and transparent independent investigation into what happened'.

Downing Street said Mr Sunak told the Israeli PM on Tuesday night that the situation was becoming 'increasingly intolerable' and that 'far too many aid workers and ordinary civilians have lost their lives in Gaza'.

A No 10 spokesman said: 'The UK expects to see immediate action by Israel to end restrictions on humanitarian aid, deconflict with the UN and aid agencies, protect civilians and repair vital infrastructure like hospitals and water networks.

'The Prime Minister reiterated that Israel's rightful aim of defeating Hamas would not be achieved by allowing a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.'

Lord Cameron, the Foreign Secretary, told his Israeli counterpart that the attack was 'completely unacceptable'. Israel's ambassador to the UK was also summoned to the Foreign Office for a dressing down.

In a strongly worded statement, Sir Keir Starmer said the attack was 'outrageous and unacceptable', adding: 'This war must stop now.'

Some Labour MPs demanded an immediate end to arms sales to Israel. Former shadow justice secretary and Left-winger Richard Burgon said the UK had licensed almost £500million worth of arms sales to Israel and suggested this was 'the latest incident where UK military exports may have been used in attacks on British nationals'.

Henderson was a member of the Royal Marines for six years, according to his LinkedIn profile

A UN worker holds James Henderson's passport at the scene of the strike

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) had earlier stopped short of apologising for the deaths, which he described as a 'tragic case' that would be investigated 'right to the end'. His British counterpart Rishi Sunak (right) this evening told Netanyahu that he was 'he was appalled by the killing of aid workers' and branded the situation as 'increasingly intolerable'

Whitehall sources last night acknowledged that the 'horrendous' attack would make it harder for the Government to maintain its steadfast support for Israel's operation in Gaza.

One insider said: 'This sort of thing just cannot be allowed to happen. We have shown support for Israel but that is contingent on them conducting themselves in a certain way, including acting in line with international humanitarian law.'

Israel was under mounting pressure last night to explain why its forces had targeted a respected charity whose staff were travelling in clearly marked vehicles. 

What is World Central Kitchen? 

Founded in 2010, World Central Kitchen delivers freshly prepared meals to people in need following natural disasters, like hurricanes or earthquakes, or to those enduring conflict. The group has also provided meals to migrants arriving at the southern U.S. border, as well as to hospital staff who worked relentlessly during the coronavirus pandemic.

The aid group sends in teams who can cook meals that appeal to the local palate on a large scale and fast.

'When you talk about food and water, people don't want a solution one week from now, one month from now. The solution has to be now,' Andrés is quoted as saying on the group's website.

World Central Kitchen has worked in dozens of affected areas and currently has teams in Haiti, addressing the needs of Ukrainians displaced by Russia's invasion, as well as providing meals to people affected by the war in Gaza.

In Gaza, the group says it has provided more than 43 million meals to Palestinians.

The group has set up two main kitchens in the southern city of Rafah and the central town of Deir al-Balah. It lends support to 68 community kitchens throughout the territory, serving more than 170,000 hot meals a day.

Three missiles from a single drone hit the three vehicles one by one. 

Shocking pictures from the scene showed that one missile had punched straight through the prominently displayed logo of the charity on the roof of an armoured vehicle.

The convoy was hit as it was leaving the Deir al-Balah warehouse, where workers had unloaded more than 100 tons of humanitarian food aid brought to Gaza by sea.

The World Central Kitchen said it had co-ordinated the movement of its team in Gaza in advance with the Israeli Defence Forces.

WCK chief executive Erin Gore described it as a 'targeted attack' designed to deter aid agencies working in Gaza – which has been subjected to months of bombardment following the October 7 Hamas assault on Israel.

She said she was 'heartbroken and appalled', adding: 'This is not only an attack against WCK, this is an attack on humanitarian organisations showing up in the most dire of situations where food is being used as a weapon of war. This is unforgivable.'

Deliberate attacks on civilians, including aid workers, are considered a war crime.

Netanyahu said on Tuesday an Israeli airstrike had mistakenly killed the charity workers, as Britain, the US and other allies called for explanations amid widespread condemnation.

Israel's military voiced 'sincere sorrow' over the incident, which ratcheted up international pressure for steps to ease the disastrous humanitarian situation in Gaza nearly six months into Israel's siege and invasion of the Palestinian enclave.

'Unfortunately in the past day there was a tragic event in which our forces unintentionally harmed non-combatants in the Gaza Strip,' Netanyahu said in a video statement.

'This happens in war. We are conducting a thorough inquiry and are in contact with the governments. We will do everything to prevent a recurrence.'

The Israeli military (IDF) pledged an investigation by 'an independent, professional and expert body'.

Britain summoned Israel's ambassador in London to express its 'unequivocal condemnation of the appalling killing' of the WCK workers, three of whom were British nationals, and called for an urgent explanation from Israel of how this had occurred. 

A Palestinian man rides a bicycle past a damaged vehicle where employees from the World Central Kitchen (WCK), including foreigners, were killed in an Israeli airstrike

People inspect the site where World Central Kitchen workers were killed in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Henderson was among seven people, including two other Brits, who were killed in the Israeli attack on the convoy

Israel last night faced condemnation from around the world. Poland, Australia and Canada demanded answers from Israel about the deaths of their citizens.

Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese demanded 'full accountability' from Israel over the death of aid worker Lalzawmi Frankcom who was killed in the convoy.

US President Joe Biden was 'heartbroken', his press secretary said.

Mr Sunak said the aid workers were 'doing fantastic work.... They need to be allowed to do that work unhindered and it is incumbent on Israel to make sure they can do that'.

Last night protesters led by families of Israeli hostages and anti-government groups marched on the PM's residence in Jerusalem.

Mr Netanyahu said: 'Unfortunately over the last day there was a tragic incident of an unintended strike of our forces on innocent people in the Gaza Strip.' He said officials were 'checking this thoroughly' but added: 'It happens in war... and we will do everything so that this thing does not happen again.'

The IDF expressed its 'deepest condolences' to the families of the aid workers, and said it was 'reviewing the incident at the highest levels'.

IDF Spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari later said in a statement that he had 'expressed the deepest condolences of the Israel Defence Forces to the families and the entire World Central Kitchen family'.

'We will be opening a probe to examine this serious incident further.

'This will help us reduce the risk of such an event from occurring again.

'The incident will be investigated in the Fact Finding and Assessment Mechanism: an independent, professional, and expert body.'

The team from the charity and their Palestinian driver were killed in central Gaza's Deir al-Balah when their vehicle (pictured) was struck on Monday, local media reported, after the group helped deliver food and other supplies to the region

Lalzawmi 'Zomi' Frankcom (pictured), 44, from Melbourne, was killed along with three other international aid workers and a Palestinian driver, in Central Gaza, while working with the World Central Kitchen charity on Monday

The White House on Tuesday condemned the deadly airstrike as 'outrageous' and said it expected a broad and impartial investigation to be carried out with appropriate accountability.

'These people are heroes, they run into the fire, not away from it,' US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said of the seven aid workers, speaking to reporters in Paris. 'We shouldn't have a situation where people who are simply trying to help their fellow human beings are themselves at grave risk.'

Yet in a sign of how Washington has set itself as Israel's most loyal defender, John Kirby, White House national security spokesman, said American officials would wait for the results of an investigation before drawing wider conclusions.

And he insisted there was no question of halting weapons sales to Israel. 

'We were outraged to learn of an [Israel Defense Forces]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,' he said.

'We send our deepest condolences to their families and loved ones.'

Israel has long denied accusations that it is hindering the distribution of urgently needed food aid in Gaza, which it has besieged in a war since October, saying the problem is caused by international aid groups' inability to get it to those in need.

Heavily damaged vehicle of the officials working at the US-based international volunteer aid organisation World Central Kitchen

People inspect the site where World Central Kitchen workers were killed in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, April 2, 2024

'British Nationals are reported to have been killed, we are urgently working to verify this information and will provide full support to their families,' Cameron said on X

World Central Kitchen (WCK) barge loaded with food arrives off the Gaza coast, where there is risk of famine after five months of Israel's military campaign on March 15, 2024

Since the October start of the war, World Central Kitchen has been involved in relief efforts, including supplying meals to hunger-stricken Gaza.

It is one of two NGOs spearheading efforts to deliver aid to Gaza by boat from Cyprus and was also involved in the construction of a temporary jetty.

The group has set up two main kitchens in the southern city of Rafah and the central town of Deir al-Balah. It lends support to 68 community kitchens throughout the territory, serving more than 170,000 hot meals a day. 

In Cyprus, officials said seaborne aid for Gaza civilians was returning to the eastern Mediterranean island following the killing of the WCK workers, after the US-based charity said it would pause work in the enclave.

The United Arab Emirates, which had been the main financier for WCK's aid efforts through the maritime corridor, said it was pausing such shipments from Cyprus pending further safety guarantees from Israel and a full investigation.

In Britain, a Cabinet minister said the Government is 'very, very concerned' by reports that a British aid worker has been killed in Gaza.

Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, told the BBC: 'We haven't had it confirmed yet, but we are very, very concerned by the situation.

'We do know that we've urged Israel to do more to protect civilians, but also to allow aid to get into Gaza.

'But we haven't yet had this confirmed and I think the IDF are reviewing this, probably as we speak.'

She added it was 'worrying' that the charity World Central Kitchen had suspended its work in Gaza.

She said: 'One of the key things is trying to ensure we get more aid into Gaza, so if one of the charities working on the ground has suspended, then that's obviously deeply concerning.'

Ms Keegan added: 'Our thoughts would go to everybody affected.'

James Elder, spokesman for the United Nation's Children's Fund (Unicef), said the aid worker deaths underlined how dangerous the situation in Gaza has become.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: 'It is utterly horrifying. These people had been unloading something like a hundred tonnes of humanitarian food aid at this most critical junction when they were saving lives day in, day out.

People stand near a destroyed car of the NGO World Central Kitchen (WCK) along Al Rashid road, between Deir Al Balah and Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 2

A view inside a destroyed vehicle from the World Central Kitchen in Gaza on April 2

Palestinians are seen gathering around the burned and destroyed Al-Shifa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza on April 1, 2024. Many buildings including the hospital have been heavily damaged under airstrikes

Palestinians gather around the burned and destroyed Al-Shifa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza on April 1, 2024

Palestinians gather around the burned and destroyed Al-Shifa Hospital after as Israeli forces withdrew from Al-Shifa hospital in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza on April 1, 2024

Describing it as an 'immense tragedy', Mr Elder said the incident 'underscores the horrendous conditions everyone continues to endure in Gaza, but it is just such a senseless loss of life'.

He added: 'This has been one of the most dangerous places in living memory to operate, Gaza is breaking too many bleak records - numbers of children killed, number of people facing catastrophic hunger, record displacement, worst devastation to homes in living memory and largest number of United Nations colleagues killed since it was created.'

The aid ships that arrived Monday carried some 400 tons of food and supplies in a shipment organized by the United Arab Emirates and the World Central Kitchen, the charity founded by celebrity chef José Andrés.

Last month a ship delivered 200 tons of aid in a pilot run. The Israeli military was involved in coordinating both deliveries.

The US has touted the sea route as a new way to deliver desperately needed aid to northern Gaza, where several hundred Palestinians face imminent famine, largely cut off from the rest of the territory by Israeli forces .

Israel has barred UNRWA, the main UN agency in Gaza, from making deliveries to the north, and other aid groups say sending truck convoys north has been too dangerous because of the military's failure to ensure safe passage.

Passports of the officials working at the US-based international volunteer aid organization World Central Kitchen who were killed in an Israeli airstrike on April 1, 2024 are seen after the attack

Israeli troops, in a photo released by the Israeli army on April 1, 2024, are seen operating in the Gaza Strip amid the continuing battle with Hamas

An Israeli soldier, in a photo released by Israel's army on April 1, 2024, holds his gun as he and his troops operate in the Gaza Strip

The airstrike comes after the Israeli military withdrew from Gaza's largest hospital early Monday after a two-week raid that engulfed the facility and surrounding districts in fighting. 

Footage showed widespread devastation, with the facility's main buildings reduced to burned-out husks.

The military has described the raid on Shifa Hospital as a major battlefield victory in the nearly six-month war, and officials said Israeli troops killed 200 militants in the operation, though the claim that they were all militants could not be confirmed.

The raid came at a time of mounting frustration in Israel, with tens of thousands protesting Sunday against Netanyahu and demanding that he do more to bring home dozens of hostages held in Gaza. It was the largest anti-government demonstration since the start of the war.

Elsewhere, Syrian officials and state media said an Israeli airstrike on Monday destroyed the Iran's consulate in Syria, killing two Iranian generals and five officers.

The strike appears to signify an escalation of Israel's targeting of Iranian military officials and their allies in Syria. The targeting has intensified since Hamas militants - who are supported by Iran - attacked Israel on October 7.

While Iran's consular building was levelled in the attack, according to Syria's SANA state news agency, its main embassy building remained intact.

Israel, which rarely acknowledges such strikes, said it had no comment. Iran's ambassador, Hossein Akbari, vowed revenge for the attack 'at the same magnitude and harshness.'

A ship loaded with humanitarian aid departing from the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus is seen off the coast of Gaza city on April 1, 2024

Humanitarian aid is pictured being air dropped over Gaza from an RAF A400M Atlas aircraft in a photo issued by Britain's Ministry of Defence on April 1, 2024

UK Forces airdrop more food supplies to civilians in Gaza on April 1, 2024 as part of the action to address the plight of the Palestinian people

The war began on October 7 when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 people hostage.

Israel responded with an air, land and sea offensive that has killed at least 32,845 Palestinians, around two-thirds of them women and children, according to Gaza's Health Ministry. 

The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in its count. 

The Israeli military blames the civilian toll on Palestinian militants because they fight in dense residential areas.

The war has displaced most of the territory's population and driven a third of its residents to the brink of famine. 

Northern Gaza, where Shifa is located, has suffered vast destruction and has been largely isolated since October, leading to widespread hunger.

Netanyahu has vowed to keep up the offensive until Hamas is destroyed and all hostages are freed

He says Israel will soon expand ground operations to the southern city of Rafah, where some 1.4 million people - more than half of Gaza's population - have sought refuge.

But he faces mounting pressure from Israelis who blame him for the security failures of October 7 and from some families of the hostages who blame him for the failure to reach a deal despite several weeks of talks mediated by the United States, Qatar and Egypt. 

Allied countries, including main backer the US, have warned him against an invasion of Rafah.

Hamas and other militants are still believed to be holding some 100 hostages and the remains of 30 others, after freeing most of the rest during a cease-fire last November in exchange for the release of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

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