Canada condemns Israeli strike on aid workers in Gaza, demands investigation

By Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — Canada joined multiple allies including the United States, Poland and Australia in demanding a full investigation Tuesday after an Israeli airstrike killed seven aid workers trying to deliver desperately needed food in the Gaza Strip.

The workers, including a dual Canadian-American citizen, were in a convoy leaving a World Central Kitchen warehouse in Deir al-balah in central Gaza on Monday night. They had just delivered 100 tonnes of food shipped in via boat from Cyprus.

World Central Kitchen identified the dual Canadian-U.S. citizen as 33-year-old Jacob Flickinger.

The strike took place despite extensive efforts to co-ordinate the movements of World Central Kitchen workers with the Israel Defence Forces, the aid group said in a statement. 

The attack also killed three British nationals, an Australian, a Polish national and a Palestinian. 

“This is not only an attack against (World Central Kitchen), this is an attack on humanitarian organizations showing up in the most dire of situations where food is being used as a weapon of war,” said the organization’s CEO Erin Gore in an emailed statement. 

“This is unforgivable.”

Gore’s group suspended its operations in Gaza following the attack.

One image from the scene shows a white truck, the World Central Kitchen logo clearly visible among the charred remains.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it is “absolutely unacceptable” to attack aid workers. 

“This is something that never should have happened, and we are heartbroken for the families and for the organization that has been putting people in harm’s way to counter the extraordinarily devastating humanitarian crisis going on in Gaza right now,” he said.

“We obviously need full accountability and investigation in this.”

Trudeau said there needs to be “clarity” about how it happened and repeated a call for a ceasefire “so more aid workers are not in danger as they try to respond to the suffering on the ground in Gaza.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged that the Israel Defence Forces carried out the “unintended strike” that killed “innocent people.”

He said officials are investigating and “will do everything, for this not to happen again.”

The U.S. Aid Workers Security Database said more than 200 aid workers have been killed in Gaza since the latest conflict escalated there in the fall. 

On Oct. 7, Hamas, a designated terrorist entity in Canada, launched an attack against Israel that killed 1,200 people, many of them living in agricultural communes near the Gaza border. More than 200 hostages were taken, and about 100 remain in captivity in Gaza.

The Netanyahu government responded with tremendous force, pledging to destroy Hamas. More than one million Palestinians in Gaza have been displaced, and aid agencies warn the situation is dire, with access to food and medicine extremely limited.

The health ministry in Gaza, which is run by Hamas, said more than 32,000 people have been killed in the territory since October.

World Central Kitchen recently reported it had set up 68 kitchens across Gaza, providing millions of meals to desperate people.

Founded by celebrity chef José Andrés in 2010 following the deadly earthquake in Haiti, the charity partners with local chefs and restaurants as much as possible to rapidly scale up food delivery aid following a natural disaster or amid war.

It currently has operations in multiple countries dealing with armed conflicts, including Haiti and Ukraine. 

It also often responds quickly following hurricanes and earthquakes. In 2022, it partnered with Canadian restaurants in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador to provide meals to families affected by the post-tropical storm Fiona.

In mid-March, World Central Kitchen became the first aid group to bring aid to Gaza by sea in more than 20 years, with security provided by Israel. Making it happen required building a makeshift pier from rubble trucked in from around the territory.

A second sea shipment left Cyprus on Saturday. The workers delivering that aid were the ones who were hit. 

Just a week ago, Lalzawmi Frankcom, known as Zomi, was on the charity’s X account, sharing a video from the same warehouse where she was killed Monday.

Britain summoned the Israeli ambassador to explain what happened following the death of three of its citizens. Poland and Australia also demanded explanations from Israel. It was not clear if Canada had spoken directly with Israeli officials.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said Tuesday she was “horrified” by the airstrike. Her office said that as of late afternoon she had not yet connected with her Israeli counterpart. 

“We condemn these strikes and call for a full investigation,” she posted on X. “Canada expects full accountability for these killings and we will convey this to the Israeli government directly.”

Global Affairs Canada also posted on X to express concern about the deaths of the aid workers and to condemn the strikes.

“Canada emphasizes the (international humanitarian law) requirement to allow and facilitate unimpeded humanitarian access into Gaza and to protect humanitarian workers and civilians,” it said.

Speaking in Paris, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said his government had already made entreaties with Israel’s government for a “swift, thorough and impartial investigation to understand exactly what happened.”

Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East said it defies belief that the airstrikes accidentally targeted aid workers.

“This is far from the first time that Israel has targeted an aid convoy or killed humanitarian workers,” said the group’s vice-president Michael Bueckert.

He called on Canada to sanction Israeli leaders.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Canada also called for accountability, describing the airstrike as “deeply regrettable.”

“The Israeli government must carry out a thorough investigation and hold those who made the error accountable,” the group said in a statement. 

“Humanitarian aid into Gaza is essential, as are Israel’s efforts to destroy Hamas military capabilities. We express condolences to those who were killed.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 2, 2024.

— With files from The Associated Press

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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