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World Central Kitchen halts operations in Gaza after strike kills staff

International food charity World Central Kitchen (WCK) is suspending its operations in Gaza following the death of seven of its workers in an Israeli air strike.

Three of the killed aid workers were British citizens, WCK said.

The charity said those killed were part of an aid convoy that was leaving a warehouse in central Gaza on Monday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has acknowledged that Israel’s forces hit “innocent people”.

Gaza’s Hamas-run media office also blamed Israel.

WCK is one of the main suppliers of desperately needed aid to Gaza. It said that it would “be making decisions about the future of [its] work soon”.

According to the charity, the aid convoy was hit while leaving the Deir al-Balah warehouse, “where the team had unloaded more than 100 tons of humanitarian food aid brought to Gaza on the maritime route.”

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The convoy was made up of three vehicles, including two that were armoured. The BBC understands that all three were hit in the strike.

WCK said it had co-ordinated the convoy’s movements with the IDF when it was hit.

A Palestinian medical source told the BBC the workers had been wearing bullet-proof vests bearing the WCK logo.

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The Palestine Red Crescent Society said it had recovered all seven bodies from the scene of the incident following a “challenging operation spanning several hours”.

The humanitarian group added that the bodies had been taken to the Abu Yousef al-Najjar hospital in southern Gaza in preparation for their evacuation through the Rafah border crossing into Egypt.

Mr Netanyahu released a video message on Tuesday in which he said Israeli forces were behind the attack.

“Unfortunately, in the last 24 hours there was a tragic case of our forces unintentionally hitting innocent people in the Gaza Strip,” he said.

“It happens in war, we check it to the end, we are in contact with the governments, and we will do everything so that this thing does not happen again.”

The IDF had earlier said it was conducting a thorough review at the highest level to understand the circumstances of the “tragic incident”.

“We will get to the bottom of this and we will share our findings transparently,” IDF spokesperson Rear Adm Daniel Hagari vowed.

“The work of WCK is critical; they are on the frontlines of humanity.”

Mr Hagari added that the IDF had been “working closely with the World Central Kitchen to assist them in fulfilling their noble mission of helping bring food and humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza”.

According to WCK, the workers who died were Australian, Polish, British, Palestinian and a dual US-Canadian citizen.

“I am heartbroken and appalled that we – World Central Kitchen and the world – lost beautiful lives today because of a targeted attack by the IDF,” the charity’s chief executive Erin Gore said in a statement.

“The love they had for feeding people, the determination they embodied to show that humanity rises above all, and the impact they made in countless lives will forever be remembered and cherished.”

According to Cogat, the Israeli defence ministry body in charge of co-ordinating aid deliveries to Gaza, the charity is responsible for 60% of the non-governmental aid getting into the territory.

WCK said in a recent statement that it had served more than 42 million meals to people in Gaza since October and had been ready to provide more than one million more.

The charity recently made headlines for providing hundreds of tonnes of food for Gazans that was transported on the first aid ship in March.

Aid agencies have started delivering aid by sea in order to increase the amount getting into the territory, which the UN says is on the brink of famine.

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But following the deadly strike, a second US-based charity, the American Near East Refugee Aid (Anera), which was working closely with WCK, told the BBC it was also freezing its operations in Gaza.