The sequence of events leading to Israeli strikes on a World Central Kitchen convoy in Gaza

The sequence of events leading to Israeli strikes on a World Central Kitchen convoy in Gaza

SUVs and trucks bearing the distinctive logo of World Central Kitchen had become increasingly common in Gaza by late Monday, when three of WCK’s vehicles were traveling along on the coastal road used as a humanitarian corridor.

The dynamic international food aid group has been one of the few organizations able to get supplies into the embattled enclave and distributed to hungry civilians from north to south. Two of the SUVs traveling Monday were armored and bore the frying pan logo on the roof, the group said. A third was an unmodified “soft-skin” vehicle.

None of them would return to base.

Inside the vehicles were seven of the group’s employees and volunteers, including a Palestinian as well as aid workers from the United States, Britain, Poland, Australia and other countries drawn to the globe’s worst humanitarian crisis. They were one of the teams forming part of the pop-up maritime supply chain WCK had constructed, using barges, temporary piers and convoys to get food from Europe to aid points around Gaza.

The group had just been part of a convoy that unloaded more than 100 tons of aid at a warehouse at Deir al-Balah, according to a WCK statement. Three cars were making a return trip to staging areas near the Egyptian border, heading along Al-Rasheed Road.

The team had coordinated with Israeli military officials and had clearance to drive the route, WCK said. Israel Defense Forces officials said they have been working closely with WCK for months in its Gaza operations.

But the route, one of the few lanes of humanitarian aid crossing Gaza, is cited as a “high-risk zone” by the United Nations because of deadly incidents along the way.

The WCK workers wore bulletproof vests within the armored cars. The group had reportedly complained to the Israeli military days earlier that an IDF sniper had fired into a WCK car, without any of the occupants being struck.

The team was used to dangerous situations. James Henderson, 33, a British volunteer, had been a Special Forces officer. Australian Lalzawmi “Zomi” Frankcom, 43, listed on documents as the WCK’s country manager, had previously delivered food from the back of a motorcycle along earthquake-shattered roads in Haiti, a colleague told The Washington Post. She had written that even for her, Gaza was “intense.”

On March 25, World Central Kitchen shared video showing Lalzawmi “Zomi” Frankcom, who was killed in an Israeli strike, giving a tour of their Gaza kitchen. (Video: Reuters)

“I’m getting used to the drones but the booms still make my tummy go funny,” she recently texted to Josh Phelps, WCK’s former director of relief operations.

Several of the workers had met earlier Monday with Sigrid Kaag, the U.N. special coordinator for humanitarian and reconstruction aid in Gaza, on a visit seeking to improve aid delivery and make conditions safer for those trying to deliver it.

“We have had more than 180 humanitarian aid workers killed in Gaza,” U.N. spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said in a briefing Tuesday.

Sometime around 9:30 p.m. Monday, a 29-year-old volunteer medical technician with the Palestine Red Crescent who was on duty not far from Al-Rasheed Road heard an explosion. A few minutes later, his crew got a call about airstrikes on vehicles.

The man, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to security concerns, provided a video that he took of the scene shortly after, showing technicians arriving at a white Toyota stalled in the roadway.

“They are foreigners,” one technician says, looking at the bloodied interior.

“Why were they struck?” another asks.

“I have no idea why they were stuck. How would I know?”

Shortly after, the crew pulls out the badly damaged first body, a man still wearing his bulletproof vest.

Other crews responded to two other vehicles that had been hit along the same stretch of road, the man said.

Satellite © Planet Labs 2024

Satellite © Planet Labs 2024

Satellite © Planet Labs 2024

Satellite © Planet Labs 2024

Imagery of the aftermath reviewed and geolocated by The Post shows that all of the vehicles were destroyed within a mile and a half of each other, suggesting that some had a chance to keep driving after the attack began.

One vehicle was off to the side of the road, facing north. The hood of the vehicle was largely disintegrated, the windows blown out and the doors blackened.

A second vehicle, the Toyota, was in the middle of the road a half-mile to the south, the hole punched through its roof next to the WCK logo spanning nearly half of its width.

A third vehicle was found a mile farther along. It was sideways along the road, much of the metal of the vehicle’s body frayed.

Videos showed some bodies that were damaged beyond recognition. Others were clearly identified by the passport photos open on their vests. Palestinian driver Seif Issam Abu Taha was still in his WCK T-shirt.

World Central Kitchen said that seven of its workers in Gaza were killed in an Israeli strike and that it was immediately halting its operations in the region. (Video: AP)

Chris Cobb-Smith, a security consultant and former artillery officer in the British army, said in a message that the “small, confined detonation” suggested the vehicles were struck with a drone-fired missile that is “very accurate with significant penetrating power.”

All three vehicles were probably hit by the same kind of munition, Cobb-Smith said, as “it would be unreasonable, tactically to fire different munitions at different targets during an operation.”

Israel, without offering details of what occurred, apologized for the attacks. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu characterized them as “unintentional” and a “tragic incident.”

The IDF said it has begun an investigation but declined to comment on reports in Israeli media that its forces had been targeting a possible militant the Israelis believed may have been in the company of the convoy at some point during the day.

WCK CEO Erin Gore described the strike as a “targeted attack” on the group’s civilian team.

Cate Brown, Jon Gerberg and Júlia Ledur contributed to this report.

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