Workers in the central world kitchen delivered aid. Then their convoy was hit.

Lalzawmi Frankcom's text message was short and sweet: a response with a heart emoji at 10:38 pm on Sunday to her friend Josh Phelps, who had sent photos of their humanitarian work together on a reservation in South Dakota.

On Monday Ms Frankcom, an Australian known as Zomi, had a big day ahead of her. She and her colleagues at the World Central Kitchen in Gaza were waiting for a ship to arrive at their newly built dock so they could unload hundreds of tons of badly needed humanitarian aid.

The team left Rafah in southern Gaza at around 8am local time on Monday and headed north towards Deir al Balah. “They were so excited, like they were going to a wedding,” said Shadi Abu Taha, whose brother, Saif, was among them.

But the journey ended disastrously.

Israeli strikes hit their convoy that night, killing Ms. Frankcom and six of her colleagues at World Central Kitchen, the charity group founded by chef José Andrés that has delivered millions of meals to Gaza.

Many countries, including Australia, Britain and the United States, where some of the workers were from, condemned the attack and called for investigations and accountability.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has almost unequivocally rejected international criticism of his country's continuation of the war against Hamas, said Tuesday evening that Israel “deeply regrets the tragic incident.”

The Israeli military said the attacks were the result of “misidentification” but provided no further details. “This was an error resulting from a misidentification, at night, during the war, in a very complex situation,” said Israeli Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi. said in a video on Tuesday. “It shouldn't have happened.”

The deaths brought the number of aid workers killed during the war in Gaza to at least 196, including more than 175 UN employees, many of them local Palestinians, according to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who called the death toll “inconceivable”. .”

A photograph of Lalzawmi Frankcom released by World Central Kitchen.Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The deadly Israeli attack is also setting back attempts to tackle the food crisis in the Gaza Strip, with aid groups saying they are now more cautious in making deliveries and at least two operations suspended. World Central Kitchen itself stopped its work in Gaza and sent three ships with hundreds of tons of food back to the port of Cyprus.

The World Central Kitchen ship, the Jennifer, arrived in Gaza on Monday morning. She was carrying around 332 tonnes of aid which she would unload on the rudimentary pier, built in six days with the rubble of bombed buildings.

The workers spent the day unloading 100 tons of supplies from the ship and taking them to their warehouse a few miles south of Deir al Balah. They also had a meeting with the United Nations Senior Coordinator for Humanitarian Relief and Reconstruction in Gaza, Sigrid Kaag.

The rest of the unloading would have to wait until the next day. The team would return to Rafah, a move that typically requires coordination with the Israeli military.

At one point that evening, World Central Kitchen workers piled into their vehicles. Their convoy, consisting of two armored vehicles and a third vehicle, left the warehouse and take a coastal road. The Israeli army had been informed of the aid workers' movements, the charity said. They were heading south towards their accommodation in Rafah, but did not go far.

The first reports of attacks in the area began arriving on Palestinian channels of the social media app Telegram around 10.30pm.

It was then that the Palestinian Red Crescent, a humanitarian organization, received a call that there had been an attack on a vehicle on Al-Rashid, the coastal road. The organization's doctors contacted the Israeli army to coordinate their movement, said Mahmoud Thabet, who answered the call.

Once they obtained authorization, he said, they went to the scene and found three destroyed vehicles, along with the bodies of the victims.

“We had no idea who the victims were,” Mr. Thabet said in an interview. “We were shocked to see foreign individuals.”

News began to emerge that foreign workers had been killed. Subsequently, photos of bloodied passports – British, Australian and Polish – circulated on social media, along with images of broken bodies.

Abdelraziq Abu Taha, another brother of Saif, said he heard from an employee at World Central Kitchen that there had been a strike near Deir al-Balah. Deeply concerned, Mr. Abu Taha tried calling his brother several times, but got no response.

There were no immediate public statements from World Central Kitchen or the Israeli military about what happened. And other graphic images began to spread on social media: bodies lifted from an ambulance at Al Aqsa Martyrs' Hospital and placed on the ground. Footage showed people taking photos and recording, pushing to get closer, as passports were opened and placed on two corpses wearing bulletproof vests.

Just after 1 a.m., World Central Kitchen released a short statement saying it was aware of reports that members of its team had been killed in an Israeli military strike while working to support humanitarian food delivery efforts in Gaza .

The Israeli military responded soon after, saying at 1:34 a.m. that it was “conducting a thorough analysis at the highest levels to understand the circumstances of this tragic incident.”

The first confirmation that World Central Kitchen workers had been killed came 14 minutes later in a send on social media by Mr. Andrés. He mourned “many of our sisters and brothers” killed in an Israeli attack.

Messages of condolences, tributes and indignation arrived.

Abdelraziq Abu Taha continued to try to contact his brother, calling him again and again until, finally, someone answered.

“The owner of this phone is at Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Hospital,” he recalled a stranger's voice saying on the line. The hospital had received five bodies, the stranger added.

It wasn't until 7:07 a.m. that the scale of the tragedy became clear: Seven workers had been killed, World Central Kitchen said in a new statement, placing blame squarely on the Israeli army for what it called “a targeted attack.”

The Palestinian Red Crescent said its medics had initially found five bodies at the scene. Two others were located later, after an hour-long operation, and taken to Al-Aqsa Hospital, the organization said on Tuesday morning.

Photographs and videos of the aftermath that morning raised further questions about what had happened on the coastal road. Three white trucks were in various states of destruction, with the front of one burned down to the metal frame.

Charred papers bearing the World Central Kitchen emblem were strewn in the vehicle and on the roadway. The roof of the passenger side of another vehicle was punctured by a hole about half a meter in diameter, but the windshield and side windows were virtually intact. The doors, windows and roof of the third vehicle were shattered and the interior was stained with blood.

Videos and photos verified by the New York Times suggested the convoy had been hit multiple times. The images show three white vehicles destroyed, with the northernmost and southernmost vehicles more than a mile and a half away.

Weapons experts told the Times that each of the vehicles had been hit by small, precise munitions, most likely fired from a drone. Chris Cobb-Smith, a security expert and British Army veteran, noted in a text message that the pattern of damage suggested the munitions had been “very accurate,” with a “devastating but limited explosion.”

Justin Bronk, a senior researcher at the Royal United Services Institute in London, examined videos showing damaged vehicles. He noted in an email that “they appear to have been hit by small, highly accurate missiles.”

“I can't describe the shock when we saw those photos,” Abdelraziq Abu Taha said. “Even now, my father, my mother, none of us can believe it. He was under international protection. Only two hours earlier he was near the Israelis at the pier.”

Reporting contribution was provided by Adam Rasgon, Kim Severson, Gaya Gupta, Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Michael Levenson AND Anushka Patil.

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