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Gaza medical officials say Israeli strike kills 4 foreign aid workers, driver after delivering food

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — An apparent Israeli airstrike killed four international aid workers with the World Central Kitchen charity and their Palestinian driver late Monday, hours after the group brought in a new shipload of food to northern Gaza, which has been isolated and pushed to the brink of famine by Israel’s offensive.

Footage showed the bodies of the five dead at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in the central Gaza town of Deir al-Balah. Several of them wore protective gear with the charity’s logo. Staff showed the passports of three of the dead — British, Australian and Polish. The nationality of the fourth aid worker was not immediately known.

The Israeli military said it was conducting a review “to understand the circumstances of this tragic incident.”

World Central Kitchen, the charity founded by celebrity chef José Andrés, said it was aware of the reports and would “share more information when we have gathered all the facts.”

“This is a tragedy. Humanitarian aid workers and civilians should NEVER be a target. EVER,” WCK spokeswoman Linda Roth said in a statement.

Mahmoud Thabet, a Palestinian Red Crescent paramedic who was on the team that brought the bodies to the hospital, told The Associated Press the workers were in a three-car convoy that was crossing out of northern Gaza when an Israeli missile hit. Thabet said he was told by WCK staff the team had been in the north coordinating distribution of the newly arrived aid and were heading back to Rafah in the south.

The source of fire could not be independently confirmed.

Three aid ships from Cyprus arrived earlier Monday carrying some 400 tons of food and supplies organized by the charity and the United Arab Emirates — the group's second shipment after a pilot run last month. The Israeli military was involved in coordinating both deliveries.

The U.S. has touted the sea route as a new way to deliver desperately needed aid to northern Gaza, where the U.N. has said much of the population is on the brink of starvation, largely cut off from the rest of the territory by Israeli forces. Israel has barred UNRWA, the main U.N. agency in Gaza, from making deliveries to the north, and other aid groups say sending truck convoys north has been too dangerous because of the military's failure to ensure safe passage.

The UNRWA said in its latest report that 173 of its “colleagues” have been killed in Gaza in the violence. The figure does not include workers for other aid organizations.

World Central Kitchen board member Robert Egger and the media reported that the Australian killed in Monday night's strike was 44-year-old Zomi Frankcom from Melbourne.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was urgently seeking to confirm reports of an Australian death. The department said in a statement: “We have been clear on the need for civilian lives to be protected in this conflict."

The strike came hours after Israeli troops ended a two-week raid on Shifa Hospital, Gaza's largest, leaving the facility largely gutted and a swath of destruction in the surrounding neighborhoods. Footage showed Shifa's main buildings had been reduced to burned-out husks.

Israel said it launched the raid on Shifa because senior Hamas operatives had regrouped there and were planning attacks. The military said its troops killed 200 militants in the operation, though the claim that they were all militants could not be confirmed, and Palestinians coming to the site after the troops withdrew found bodies of civilians.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS MONDAY:

Syrian officials and state media said an Israeli airstrike destroyed the Iran’s consulate in Syria, killing two Iranian generals and five officers. The strike appears to signify an escalation of Israel’s targeting of Iranian military officials and their allies in Syria. The targeting has intensified since Hamas militants — who are supported by Iran — attacked Israel on Oct. 7.

Israel, which rarely acknowledges such strikes, said it had no comment. Iran’s ambassador, Hossein Akbari, vowed revenge for the attack “at the same magnitude and harshness.”

Also, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would shut down satellite broadcaster Al Jazeera immediately after parliament passed a law Monday clearing the way for the country to halt the Qatari-owned channel from broadcasting from Israel.

Netanyahu called the network the “terror channel” and accused it of harming Israeli security, participating in the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks and inciting violence against Israel.

Al Jazeera condemned his remarks, calling them “a dangerous and ridiculous lie” and saying they were Netanyahu’s justification “for the ongoing assault” on the media network and press freedom. In a statement, the network vowed to persist in its reporting with “boldness and professionalism.”

RAID LEAVES SHIFA IN RUINS

The Shifa raid gutted a facility that had once been the heart of Gaza’s health care system but which doctors and staff had struggled to get even partially operating again after a previous Israeli assault in November.

The latest assault triggered days of heavy fighting for blocks around Shifa, with witnesses reporting airstrikes, the shelling of homes and troops going house to house to force residents to leave. Israeli authorities identified six officials from Hamas’ military wing they said were killed inside the hospital during the raid. Israel also said it seized weapons and valuable intelligence.

After the troops withdrew, hundreds of Palestinians returned to search for lost loved ones or examine the damage.

Among the dead were Ahmed Maqadma and his mother — both doctors at Shifa — and his cousin, said Dr. Ghassan Abu Sitta, a Palestinian-British doctor who volunteered at Shifa and other hospitals during the first months of the war before returning to Britain.

The fate of the three had been unknown since their phone suddenly went dead as they tried to leave Shifa nearly a week ago. On Monday, relatives found their bodies with gunshot wounds about a block from the hospital, said Abu Sitta, who is in touch with the family.

Mohammed Mahdi, who was among those who returned to the area, described a scene of “total destruction.” He said several buildings had been burned down and that he counted six bodies in the area, including two in the hospital courtyard.

At least 21 patients died during the raid, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus posted late Sunday on X, formerly Twitter.

Israel has accused Hamas of using hospitals for military purposes and has raided many hospitals across the territory. Critics accuse the army of recklessly endangering civilians and of decimating a health sector already overwhelmed with wounded.

Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the top military spokesman, said Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad group established their main northern headquarters inside the hospital. He described days of close-quarters fighting and blamed Hamas for the destruction, saying some fighters barricaded themselves inside hospital wards while others launched mortar rounds at the compound.

Hagari said the troops arrested some 900 suspected militants during the raid, including more than 500 Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters, and seized over $3 million in different currencies, as well as weapons. He said the army evacuated more than 200 of the estimated 300 to 350 patients. Two Israeli soldiers were killed in the raid, the military said.

The war began on Oct. 7, when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 people hostage.

Israel's offensive since has killed at least 32,845 Palestinians, around two-thirds of them women and children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in its count. The Israeli military blames the civilian toll on Palestinian militants because they fight in dense residential areas.

The war has displaced most of the territory’s population and driven a third of its residents to the brink of famine.

Netanyahu has vowed to keep up the offensive until Hamas is destroyed and all hostages are freed. He says Israel will soon expand ground operations to the southern city of Rafah, where some 1.4 million people — more than half of Gaza’s population — have sought refuge.

But he faces mounting pressure from Israelis who blame him for the security failures of Oct. 7 and from some families of the hostages who blame him for the failure to reach a deal despite several weeks of talks mediated by the United States, Qatar and Egypt. Tens of thousands protested Sunday, demanding Netanyahu do more to bring home the hostages in the largest anti-government demonstration since the start of the war.

Hamas and other militants are still believed to be holding some 100 hostages and the remains of 30 others, after freeing most of the rest during a cease-fire last November in exchange for the release of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

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Magdy reported from Cairo and Goldenberg from Tel Aviv, Israel.

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Find more of AP’s war coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war