Families of aid workers killed in Gaza pay tribute to 'heroes' who 'died trying to help people'

Families of those killed in the missile strike have spoke of their pride in their relatives' bravery and selflessness. ITV News Reporter Martha Fairlie has the latest

In a tribute to their loved ones, the families and friends of three British aid workers killed in Gaza following an Israeli airstrike have said they died as "heroes".

On Monday, a World Central Kitchen (WCK) convoy was hit as it was leaving the Deir al-Balah warehouse, where its team had unloaded more than 100 tonnes of humanitarian food aid taken to Gaza, the charity said.

Seven people who worked for the WCK were killed, including British victims John Chapman, 57, James "Jim" Henderson, 33, and James Kirby, 47.

All of the victims' bodies - except the Palestinian driver - were transported into Egypt ahead of an expected repatriation process back to their respective countries on Wednesday.

ITV News US Correspondent Dan Rivers recaps the global reaction to the aid worker killings

Speaking to ITV News West Country, Amy Roxburgh-Barry - the cousin of Mr Kirby - said the family are "utterly heartbroken by the loss".

She said he understood the dangers of travelling to Gaza, having served tours in Bosnia and Afghanistan in the Armed Forces, but, that despite the risks, "his compassionate nature drove him to offer assistance to those in dire need".

"James was always willing to lend a helping hand to anyone, even in the face of senseless violence," the statement said, concluding with a request for privacy as they "mourn the loss of [their] dear James".

The cousins of James Kirby - one of the three Britons killed in an Israeli airstrike - described him as 'selfless' to ITV News West Country

A childhood friend of Mr Henderson - a former Royal Marine from Cornwall - meanwhile, said it had not "sunk in yet" that he had died.

He said: "Being around Jim, you felt that nothing could go wrong. He always had complete control over everything.

"He was tough, and I don't just mean a little bit tough. That bloke walked into war zones without being phased.

"He could walk anywhere and do anything, and nothing phased him. He was brilliant."

Briton James ‘Jim’ Henderson was one of the World Central Kitchen aid workers killed in the strike in Gaza Credit: World Central Kitchen/PA

Mr Chapman's family described him as "an incredible father, husband, son and brother".

"We are devastated to have lost John, who was killed in Gaza. He died trying to help people and was subject to an inhumane act," a family statement said.

"We request we be given space and time to grieve appropriately. He was loved by many and will forever be a hero. He will be missed dearly."

The three Britons died alongside American-Canadian dual citizen Jacob Flickinger, 33, Australian national Lalzawmi "Zomi" Frankcom, 43, who was the leader of the relief team, Polish national Damian Sobol, 35, and Palestinian Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, 25.

John Chapman has been described as an 'incredible father, husband, son and brother'. Credit: PA

The charity's chief executive Erin Gore said they were "the heroes of World Central Kitchen".

"These seven beautiful souls were killed by the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] in a strike as they were returning from a full day's mission.

"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."

IDF say 'thorough' investigations are underway

Announcing the results of a preliminary investigation early on Wednesday morning, Israeli Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi called the killings a "grave mistake".

"It was a mistake that followed a misidentification - at night during a war in very complex conditions. It shouldn't have happened," he said.

"We are sorry for the unintentional harm to the members of WCK. We share in the grief of their families, as well as the entire World Central Kitchen Organisation, from the bottom of our hearts.

"An independent body will investigate the incident thoroughly, we will complete it in the next coming days. We will learn from the conclusions, and implement them immediately."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had confirmed his country's military were behind the "unintended strike" earlier on Tuesday.

Mr Netanyahu said in a statement: "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 added officials "will do everything for this not to happen again".

But WCK founder and celebrity chef Jose Andres rejected Israel's explanation, saying the strikes "were not just some unfortunate mistake in the fog of war".

Mr Andres said: "It was a direct attack on clearly marked vehicles whose movements were known by the [Israeli military].

"It was also the direct result of [the Israeli] government's policy to squeeze humanitarian aid to desperate levels."

Global condemnation of the attack

US President Joe Biden said he was "outraged and heartbroken" by the deaths and said he had spoken to Mr Andres.

"Israel has not done enough to protect aid workers trying to deliver desperately needed help to civilians," he said.

"Incidents like yesterday's simply should not happen. Israel has also not done enough to protect civilians."

He said an Israeli investigation "must be swift, it must bring accountability and its findings must be made public".

Palestinians inspect a vehicle with the logo of the World Central Kitchen wrecked by an Israeli airstrike in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip. Credit: AP

During a phone call with Mr Netanyahu, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was "appalled" by the killings and "demanded a thorough and transparent" independent investigation into what happened.

A Downing Street spokesperson said the call involved Mr Sunak reiterating that "Israel's rightful aim of defeating Hamas would not be achieved by allowing a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza".

He 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".

In an interview with The Sun's politics show, Never Mind The Ballots, the prime minister said he was "was very clear" with Mr Netanyahu that the situation in Gaza is "increasingly intolerable".

He said what is urgently needed is "a dramatic increase in the amount of aid getting into Gaza - removing the barriers - but also closer work with aid agencies to make sure things like this don't happen again".

'What's happened is a tragedy and it shouldn't have happened. There are questions that need answering,' the PM told The Sun

The prime minister is under increasing pressure to stop selling arms to Israel until aid starts entering Gaza, and when asked if he supports those calls, he replied: "I think we've always had a very careful export licensing regime that we adhere to.

"There are a set of rules, regulations and procedures that we will always follow, and I have been consistently clear with Prime Minister Netanyahu since the start of this conflict that while of course we defend Israel's right to defend itself and its people against attacks from Hamas, they have to do that in accordance with international humanitarian law, protect civilian lives and sadly too many civilians have already lost their lives."

Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron has described the killings of the aid workers as "dreadful" and said "we should mourn the loss of these brave humanitarian workers".

Lord Cameron arrived in Brussels on Wednesday morning for a Nato meeting, where he is expected to encourage allies to "step up and spend more on defence".

Sir Keir Starmer has called for international law to be upheld as he described the deaths as "outrageous and unacceptable".

The Labour leader said the deaths were "horrifying" and his thoughts were with the families of those killed.

"We condemn this strike. There must be a full investigation and those responsible must be held to account," he said.

"Humanitarian workers put their lives in danger to serve others. Their deaths are outrageous and unacceptable and it is not the first time aid workers have come under fire in Israel's campaign."

Sir Keir also repeated Labour's call for an immediate ceasefire, release of all hostages and full humanitarian access into Gaza.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said his government has requested an explanation from Israel of how the incident occurred.

Knock-on effects for future aid

WCK immediately suspended operations in the region, while the second of two batches of essential aid has returned to Cyprus, undelivered, depriving the area of hundreds of tonnes of aid.

The charity said last week that the vessels and a barge, travelling from Cyprus to northern Gaza, carried enough to prepare more than one million meals from items such as rice, pasta, flour, legumes, canned vegetables and proteins.

The first ship delivered 200 tonnes of food, water and other aid in March.

In February, the World Food Programme paused its aid deliveries to northern Gaza until conditions would "allow for safe distributions".

Other aid organisations have now paused their operations in response to killing of the WCK workers, including refugee aid non-profit Anera, which said its team in Gaza "has determined at this point the risk of actively delivering aid is far too great".

"As it stands, currently delivering aid puts not just humanitarian workers at risk but also those who are receiving the aid," the organisation said in a statement.

British relief charity Christian Aid has said it "will not be stopping or scaling down" its humanitarian work in Gaza, following the missile strike.

At least 12 people drowned off the northern Gaza coast while attempting to reach parcels that were airdropped to the area in late March, while more than 100 people were killed when IDF troops fired on a crowd of Palestinians waiting for aid earlier that month.

More than 32,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

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