Advertisement

How many aid workers have been killed in Gaza so far?

More aid workers have been killed in Gaza than any other recent conflict over such a short period of time. How did we get here?

This combination of photos provided by World Central Kitchen/WCK.org, shows seven aid workers who were killed in Gaza Monday, April 1, 2024. Israeli airstrikes that killed the aid workers in Gaza reverberated around the world, as friends and relatives mourned the losses of those who were delivering food to besieged Palestinians with the charity World Central Kitchen. Top left to right: Palestinian Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, Lalzawmi “Zomi” Frankcom of Australia, Damian Soból of Poland, and Jacob Flickinger of the U.S. and Canada. Bottom left to right: John Chapman of Britain, James Henderson of Britain and James Kirby of Britain. (World Central Kitchen/WCK.org via AP)
The seven aid workers who were killed in Gaza on Monday: (top left to right) Palestinian Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, Lalzawmi Frankcom of Australia, Damian Sobol of Poland, and Jacob Flickinger of the U.S. and Canada. Bottom left to right: Britons John Chapman, James Henderson and James Kirby. (World Central Kitchen/WCK.org via AP)

The death toll in Gaza continues to rise, with three British aid workers among those killed by a recent Israeli air strike.

World Central Kitchen (WCK) confirmed British victims John Chapman, 57, James “Jim” Henderson, 33, and James Kirby, 47, who were working for the charity’s security team, were among seven of its staff killed on Tuesday.

The others who died in the strike were the team’s leader, Lalzawmi “Zomi” Frankcom, 43, an Australian national, along with Palestinian Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, 25; US-Canadian dual citizen Jacob Flickinger, 33; and Polish national Damian Sobol, 35.

The strike has sparked international condemnation, with prime minister Rishi Sunak saying he was appalled by the killings and demanding a thorough and transparent independent investigation during a phone call with Netanyahu.

The UN said it highlights the need for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in the region and that the killings were "an inevitable result of the way this war is currently being conducted", adding: "Let humanitarian workers do their job."

The deaths have shone a light on the toll of aid workers in the war-torn region, which now stands at more than 200 since the attacks of 7 October by Hamas, according to the Aid Worker Security Database.

How the death toll has grown

The aid worker death toll has shot up since 7 October last year, after Hamas attacks on Israel, which resulted in Israel's incessant aerial bombardment of Gaza. Before that date, death tolls in any one day stood in single figures, with the highest – seven – killed on 7 July 2014, according to data from the Aid Worker Security Database (AWSD), a US-funded group.

Aid worker deaths were not common, either – the time between some deaths stood at a few years. However, the death toll has increased markedly in recent months. The AWSD data shows that at least 196 aid workers have been killed since the start of the most recent conflict. With the latest deaths, that figure now stands at 203.

The majority of those killed worked for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), a group that runs the largest aid operation in Gaza, with 13,000 employees in the region. AWSD say they crosscheck all incidents and data is collected from public sources and information provided to them by aid organisations and security forces in the region. They report that 70 aid workers were killed on 31 October last year, the most reported at one time since the start of the conflict.

Palestinians inspect a vehicle with the logo of the World Central Kitchen wrecked by an Israeli airstrike in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, April 2, 2024. A series of airstrikes killed seven aid workers from the international charity, leading it to suspend delivery Tuesday of vital food aid to Gaza. (AP Photo/Ismael Abu Dayyah)
Palestinians inspect a World Central Kitchen vehicle wrecked by an Israeli airstrike. (AP)

In November last year, AWDS said it had recorded more killings of UN aid workers in the previous two weeks than it had in total since data first started to be compiled in 2002. The data also shows that over 70% of the total UNWRA staff killed were those who died in the first few weeks of Israel's aerial bombardment of Gaza.

UNWRA's director of communications Juliette Touma told Business Insider that the conflict has been the worst ever for the agency's staff. She said it was "the highest number of UN aid workers killed in any conflict globally”.

UN officials previously condemned the deaths of aid workers during a remembrance for those who had died a month into the conflict. Tatiana Valovaya, director-general of the UN office in Geneva, said: “Thousands of our colleagues continue to work under the UN flag in [the] most risky parts of the world.”

How it compares with other conflicts

Data released in November last year showed the sheer scale of aid worker deaths in Gaza, compared to those seen in other countries. At that point, nearly 102 UN aid workers had been killed in Gaza – more than in any other single conflict in the organisation’s 78-year history.

Before that, the highest number of aid workers killed was just under 60 in Syria, with around 50 killed in Afghanistan and Somalia. With the figure in Gaza now standing at more than 200, it equates to nearly three times as many people killed in Syria in just a few months.

In November, when the 100th UN worker had been killed, the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) said the Gaza conflict was the deadliest conflict ever for the UN in such a short period of time.

Who said what about aid worker deaths?

SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN - OCTOBER 10: Washington, D.C.- based, Spanish-American chef Jose Andres attends day 2 of Gastronomika San Sebastian on October 10, 2023 in San Sebastian, Spain. (Photo by Gari Garaialde/Getty Images)
Spanish-American chef Jose Andres. (Getty)

Celebrity chef Jose Andres, the founder of World Central Kitchen, said the attack had targeted his workers "systematically, car by car." He said the World Central Kitchen workers in Gaza had clear communication with the military, which knew their movements.

"They attacked the first car... We have a feeling they were able to escape safely because this was an armoured vehicle," he said. The people in the first car "were able to move in the second one. Again, this one was hit. They were able to move in the third one."

The US has said it wants a swift Israeli investigation into the attack and needs to put in place better deconfliction and coordination measures to protect humanitarian workers and all civilians on the ground.

"It doesn't really matter how they made the mistake," the US State Department said. "At the end of the day, you have seven dead aid workers who were there trying to deliver humanitarian assistance. So whatever the reason was that led to this tragedy, whatever the mistake that happened inside the IDF, it's unacceptable, and they need to do better."

Sunak told Netanyahu that Britain was appalled by the deaths, which included three Britons, and demanded a thorough and transparent independent investigation, Sunak's office said.

People inspect the site where World Central Kitchen workers were killed in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, April 2, 2024. World Central Kitchen, an aid group, says an Israeli strike that hit its workers in Gaza killed at least seven people, including several foreigners. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)
People inspect the site where World Central Kitchen workers were killed in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip. (AP)

US president Joe Biden described the conflict as "one of the worst in recent memory in terms of how many aid workers have been killed".

"This is a major reason why distributing humanitarian aid in Gaza has been so difficult – because Israel has not done enough to protect aid workers trying to deliver desperately needed help to civilians. Incidents like yesterday’s simply should not happen. I will continue to press Israel to do more to facilitate that aid."

Israel's explanation for the deaths was "not good enough", Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese said.

"We need to have accountability for how it has occurred, and what is not good enough is the statements that have been made, including that this is just a product of war," Albanese said, seemingly referring to comments from Netanyahu in a video message on Tuesday in which he said that "this happens in war" as the Israeli military promised an independent investigation.

Video grab of Lt Gen Herzi Halevi, chief of the general staff of the Israel Defence Forces, making a statement following an Israeli air strike in Gaza which resulted in the death of seven aid workers. Issue date: Wednesday April 3, 2024.
Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi, chief of the general staff of the Israel Defence Forces, described the incident as a ’mistake’. (AP/X)

What has Israel said?

Israel blames Hamas for civilian deaths in Gaza, saying the group uses the population as human shields and hides weapons and equipment around hospitals, which have been hit by bombardments.

Herzi Halevi, the head of the IDF, apologised for the “misidentification” that resulted in the most recent deaths of the aid workers. In a video statement, he said: “I want to be very clear – the strike was not carried out with the intention of harming WCK aid workers. It was a mistake that followed a misidentification – at night during a war in very complex conditions. It shouldn’t have happened.”

He highlighted the importance of aid workers in the region to provide humanitarian relief, adding: “We see great importance in the continued delivery of humanitarian aid, and we will keep working to facilitate this vital effort.”

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the attack as unintended and “tragic” and pledged an independent inquiry – but stopped short of an apology. In a video statement posted on X, he said: “Unfortunately in the past day, there was a tragic event in which our forces unintentionally harmed non-combatants in the Gaza Strip.

FILE - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, June 25, 2023. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office says the Israeli leader will undergo surgery on Sunday for a hernia. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP, File)
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the incident as ‘tragic’. (AP)

“This happens in war. We are conducting a thorough inquiry and are in contact with the governments. We will do everything to prevent a recurrence.”

Israel has previously claimed that UNRWA workers took part in the attack on 7 October. It also said 10% of its staff were affiliated with Hamas.

However, US intelligence said in February that there was “low confidence” in the claims that staff had participated in the attack. The report added that there was also no evidence that any workers were affiliated with Hamas.