In a devastating blow to humanitarian efforts in Gaza, seven aid workers from the disaster relief nonprofit World Central Kitchen (WCK) were killed in an Israeli airstrike, prompting the organization to suspend its operations in the region. The incident has drawn widespread condemnation from the international community and increased pressure on Israel to ease the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Founded by Michelin-starred chef José Andrés in 2010, WCK has been one of the few aid organizations able to deliver food to Gaza, where the ongoing Israel-Hamas war has exacerbated an already critical humanitarian crisis. The nonprofit, which has operated in more than 45 countries, had been working with the United Arab Emirates to deliver food to Gaza via a maritime route from Cyprus.

The airstrike occurred as WCK workers were leaving a warehouse in Gaza in two armored cars emblazoned with the organization's logo, despite having coordinated their movements with the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). The seven aid workers killed were citizens of Australia, Poland, the U.K., and Palestine, with one being a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada.

"This is not only an attack against WCK, 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 Erin Gore, CEO of World Central Kitchen, in a press release. "This is unforgivable."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the killing of the aid workers "unintended and tragic," stating in a video statement, "Unfortunately in the past day there was a tragic event in which our forces unintentionally harmed non-combatants in the Gaza Strip. 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."

The IDF expressed "sincere sorrow" and promised an independent investigation into the incident. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Israel to conduct a "swift, thorough and impartial investigation," emphasizing that humanitarian workers must be protected. "These people are heroes, they run into the fire, not away from it," Blinken said of the seven NGO workers.

The incident has further strained Israel's diplomatic relations, with Australia, Poland, and the U.K.-countries generally friendly towards Israel-demanding action to protect aid workers. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed the death of 44-year-old aid worker Lalzawmi "Zomi" Frankcom and called for those responsible to be held accountable, while Poland objected to the "disregard for international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians, including humanitarian workers."

Gaza has become "one of the world's most dangerous and difficult places to work" since the start of the war, according to Jamie McGoldrick, interim UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory. At least 196 aid workers have been killed since the conflict began, and half of Gaza's population has completely exhausted their food supply, as reported by a UN-backed body in March.

As international pressure mounts on Israel to alleviate the severe hunger crisis in Gaza, the future of WCK's operations in the region remains uncertain. Chef Andrés, who started the organization by sending cooks and food to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, said he was heartbroken and grieving for the families and friends of those who died in the airstrike. "The Israeli government needs to stop this indiscriminate killing. It needs to stop restricting humanitarian aid, stop killing civilians and aid workers, and stop using food as a weapon."

The suspension of WCK's operations in Gaza is a significant setback for the enclave's 2.3 million residents, many of whom have been displaced and are facing the prospect of famine. As the international community continues to demand action and accountability from Israel, the urgent need for humanitarian assistance in Gaza remains a critical concern.