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Seven aid workers killed by Israeli strike in Gaza as family of Brit say he will be ‘remembered as a hero’

British citizens James Henderson, John Chapman and James Kirby were among the seven aid workers killed by an Israeli strike on Monday

Bel Trew
Chief International Correspondent
,Alastair Jamieson,Josh Marcus,Barney Davis
Wednesday 03 April 2024 11:32
Comments
Australian aid worker killed in Gaza speaks to The Independent

All seven aid worker “heroes” with World Central Kitchen killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza on Monday have been identified.

The humanitarian group, which delivers food aid to war and disaster zones, said the seven were returning from coordinating an aid shipment in central Gaza when they were killed.

WCK said the following individuals died when the IDF struck their three-car convoy: Saifeddin Issam Ayab Abutaha, 25, of Palestine; Lalzawmi Frankcom, 43, of Australia; Damian Soból, 35, of Poland; Jacob Flickinger, 33, a US-Canadian dual citizen; along with UK citizens John Chapman, 57, James Henderson, 33, and James Kirby, 47.

The killings have prompted international condemnation, with UK prime minister Rishi Sunak demanding a “thorough and transparent investigation” from Israel.

On Tuesday evening, Mr Sunak telephoned Benjamin Netanyahu to say that “far too many aid workers and ordinary civilians have lost their lives in Gaza” and that the situation there is “increasingly intolerable”.

“These seven beautiful souls were killed by the IDF in a strike as they were returning from a full day’s mission,” WCK CEO Erin Gore said Tuesday in a statement.

“Their smiles, laughter, and voices are forever embedded in our memories. And we have countless memories of them giving their best selves to the world. We are reeling from our loss. The world’s loss.”

The organisation noted that Abutaha, Frankcom, Soból, and Flickinger were part of WCK’s relief team, while Chapman, Henderson, and Kirby were part of the group’s security team.

World Central Kitchen aid worker John Chapman, who was killed by the Israeli airstrike in Gaza (Reuters)

Former special forces commando Chapman, a 57-year-old married father-of-two, had only been in Gaza for a few weeks before he was killed, according to The Sun.

According to his LinkedIn, Henderson, 33, attended Penryn Sports College before starting his career as a roofer in his native Falmouth, Cornwall. He then served as a special forces operator and a member of the Royal Marines for six years.

Upon leaving the military in 2016, he worked as security for a wind farm in the north east before working a series of close personal security jobs, one based in Iraq, and then went on to volunteer with WCK.

James ‘Jim’ Henderson, one of the three British nationals killed in Gaza, is seen in this undated handout picture from World Central Kitchen (Reuters)

James described himself as a “military professional, who takes the Health and Safety of others very seriously”. Even though he possessed a rich history of service in the armed forces, his “true vocation lies in security”, though in a “civilian position”.

“A highly disciplined, courteous and proactive individual who is mobile, offers flexibility and Is willing to take on any further training necessary to offer the best service possible,” the page adds.

His family were informed of his death on Tuesday morning, a day after he was killed.

Falmouth MP Cherilyn Mackrory said: “My sincere condolences to the family of Falmouth’s James Henderson, who was one of seven workers associated with the World Central Kitchen charity that sadly died following an airstrike on a food convoy in Gaza. My thoughts are with all his loved ones.”

James Kirby was working on the WCK team’s security, the charity said (Reuters)

The 47-year-old Kirby, known to friends as Kirbs, was a British Army sniper marksman and rifleman originating from Bristol.

On his LinkedIn profile, he says he “maintains a calm demeanour under extreme pressure, including life-threatening situations”.

He had guarded Wimbledon tennis stars as a players escort protecting them and their Covid bubble of the whilst transiting to and from the courts. He also provided security at the 2023 Monaco Grand Prix.

He took on a series of maritime security and close personal security jobs describing himself as “willing and able to work on international assignments, and free to travel as required”.

A man displays blood-stained British, Polish, and Australian passports following the Israeli airstrike (AP)

Just last year he finished a large renovation project in Somerset. In November, he wrote: “I am ready to focus on myself once again and step into a new chapter, maybe buy a new shirt instead of another roll of insulation”.

In a statement to the BBC, his family said: “As a family, we are utterly heartbroken by the loss of our beloved James Kirby. Alongside the other six individuals who tragically lost their lives, he will be remembered as a hero.

“James understood the dangers of venturing into Gaza, drawing from his experiences in the British Armed Forces, where he bravely served tours in Bosnia and Afghanistan. Despite the risks, his compassionate nature drove him to offer assistance to those in dire need.

“A genuine gentleman, James was always willing to lend a helping hand to anyone, even in the face of senseless violence. 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.

“We are so incredibly proud of who James was and what he achieved. Never stop caring and trying to help people, love will eventually overcome hate.”

Another relative posted on Facebook: “My cousin, James Kirby, killed in Gaza yesterday working to bring aid to innocent people.

“I will always be so proud of our family’s HERO. The kindest, funniest and most lovable person. RIP Kirbs.”

All three worked as private security contractors for UK-based firm Solace Global. The security firm declined to comment when approached.

Palestinian national Saifeddin Issam Ayab Abutaha, 25, was buried in a ceremony attended by hundreds in his hometown of Rafah on Tuesday, according to BBC News.

Jacob Flickinger, 33, a US-Canadian dual citizen, was also killed in the attack (WCK)

Jacob Flickinger, a US-Canadian dual citizen, was also part of the relief team killed on Monday.

Those responsible for his and his colleague’s deaths must be held accountable, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs Melanie Joly said in a social media post that condemned the strikes.

The White House said it was also “outraged” by the strike on workers with WCK, a charity that has been supplying food to starving Palestinians who are on the brink of famine amid Israel’s total war on the besieged strip.

“Unfortunately over the last day there was a tragic incident of an unintended strike of our forces on innocent people in the Gaza Strip,” Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement, promising that Israeli officials were thoroughly “checking” into the incident and that the country’s armed forces “will do everything for this not to happen again”.

The IDF attacked the convoy because officials believed an armed member of Hamas was travelling with the group, though no such person was travelling along with the aid workers, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports. An Israeli army source told the outlet that the strike wasn’t a matter of poor coordination, but rather because “every commander sets the rules for himself.”

Australian aid worker Zomi Frankcom, left, was also killed in the airstrike (Reuters)

The charity had just offloaded 100 tonnes of food aid from a barge which sailed from Cyprus when Israel attacked their vehicle convoy on Gaza’s coastal road in Deir al-Balah. WCK said on Tuesday it was pausing all work in the occupied Palestinian territory.

WCK said its convoy of three vehicles was hit despite the charity coordinating its movements with the Israeli military, and the fact that two of the cars hit were clearly marked as aid vehicles.

Foreign secretary David Cameron called on Israel to “immediately investigate”, adding that the government wanted “a full, transparent explanation of what happened”.

“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,” said Ms Gore of WCK said in a previous statement. “This is unforgivable.”

Palestinian national Saifeddin Issam Ayab Abutaha, 25, was buried in a ceremony attended by hundreds in his hometown of Rafah on Tuesday (WCK)

Mr Soból started volunteering with WCK in the border town of Przemysl at the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine where he was helping feed refugees. He joined WCK’s response to the earthquakes in Turkey. More recently he started working for WCK in Gaza.

Nate Mook, the former chief executive of WCK who first hired Ms Frankcom, described her as a “shining star” and “gift to the world” who had dedicated her life to helping people. “The news of her death, the killing of seven members of the World Central Kitchen is devastating for their families, friends and the world,” he told The Independent.

“It is unfathomable that they are not with us any more. They were all truly dedicated to their work, trying to do what they could in the most desperate and dangerous of situations.”

Rear admiral Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military’s top spokesperson, said officials were reviewing the incident at the highest level. He said an independent investigation would be launched that “will help us reduce the risk of such an event from occurring again”.

WCK founder, celebrity chef Jose Andres, said the deaths were a “tragedy”.

Damian Sobol, 35, started volunteering with WCK in the border town of Przemysl at the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine (Reuters)

“I am heartbroken and grieving for their families and friends and our whole WCK family,” Andres wrote in a statement. “These are people – angels – I served alongside in Ukraine, Gaza, Turkey, Morocco, Bahamas, Indonesia.

“They are not faceless… they are not nameless. 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.”

It is not the first time Israel has been accused of bombing humanitarian aid convoys and distribution centres and of killing humanitarian aid workers. Jamie McGoldrick, the UN’s aid coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, said this was “not an isolated incident” and that Gaza was one of the most dangerous places on earth for humanitarian workers.

“As of 20 March, at least 196 humanitarians had been killed in the Occupied Palestinian Territory since October 2023. This is nearly three times the death toll recorded in any single conflict in a year,” he said in a statement. “Since October 2023, the OPT has become one of the world’s most dangerous and difficult places to work.”

One of the destroyed vehicles from the World Central Kitchen convoy (Reuters)

The UN’s Palestinian refugee agency told The Independent that over 170 of their staffers had been killed in the bombardment and a tank shell hit one of its aid convoys in February along the same coastal road WCK had been on.

The agency said that a supply distribution centre was also hit in March, and convoys had come under Israeli fire in December.

Alicia Kearns, a Conservative MP and the chair of the foreign affairs committee, said that there was still no explanation for the January bombing of the Medical Aid for Palestine complex in a declared safe zone which had also been deconflicted directly with the Israeli military. Four British doctors who were there at the time only just survived.

She called for a “thorough and swift investigation” into the latest incident. “And also [into] what impact it will have on the ability of the maritime corridor to function given it is World Central Kitchen who were receiving and distributing the desperately needed aid,” she tweeted. “Humanitarian agencies must be given the assurances they need that their people will be protected.”

Francesca Albanese, a UN special rapporteur for the occupied Palestinian territories, called for sanctions on Israel. “On the day Israel bombed a foreign embassy in a third country [Syria], it also killed WCK humanitarian workers. Israel is crossing every possible red line, still with full impunity. Sanctions now. Indictments now.”

It came hours after Israeli troops ended a devastating two-week raid on Gaza’s largest hospital, al-Shifa, leaving the facility a torched, gutted shell.

Footage showed al-Shifa’s main buildings had been reduced to a charred mess, with what looked like flattened bodies and body parts smashed in the ground, which had been chewed up by bulldozers.

Israel claimed it launched the raid on the north Gaza hospital because senior Hamas operatives had regrouped there and were planning attacks. After the troops withdrew, hundreds of Palestinians returned to search for lost loved ones or examine the damage - with Palestinian journalists reporting people had been killed by Israeli soldiers.

Among the dead were Ahmed Maqadma and his mother – both doctors at al-Shifa and his cousin, said Dr Ghassan Abu Sitta, a Palestinian-British doctor who volunteered at al-Shifa and other hospitals during the first months of the war before returning to Britain.?

The fate of the three had been unknown since they talked by phone with family as they tried to leave al-Shifa nearly a week ago and the line suddenly went dead. On Monday, relatives found their bodies with gunshot wounds about a block from the hospital, said Abu Sitta, who is in touch with the family.?

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