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Israel Hamas WarNewsIsrael

Civilian deaths in Gaza: Australian aid worker, ‘kill zones’, Al-Shifa hospital

Even by Israel’s calculations, more than two thirds of those killed in Gaza have been civilians.
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Woman and man in front of people serving food

Zomi Frankcom at the World Central Kitchen distribution point in Deir al-Balah, Gaza (WCK Instagram)

Published: 2 April 2024

Last updated: 2 April 2024

An Australian woman working with the World Central Kitchen (WCK) charity is reported to have been killed while delivering food and other supplies in northern Gaza.

Australian aid worker Zomi Frankcom died with six other aid workers, reportedly in an Israeli air strike.

WCK has suspended food deliveries in Gaza in the wake of the deaths.

“Australia expects full accountability for the deaths of a worker which is completely unacceptable,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said this afternoon.

"Aid workers, those doing humanitarian work and indeed, innocent civilians need to be provided with protection. Australia has had a very clear position of supporting a sustainable ceasefire for some periods of pulling for humanitarian aid to go to the people of Gaza after suffering, and to make sure the hostages are released as well. Australians want to see an end to this conflict.”

Frankcom's family released a statement describing her as “a kind, selfless and outstanding human being that has travelled the world helping others in their time of need”.

“We are deeply mourning the news that our brave and beloved Zomi has been killed doing the work she loves delivering food to the people of Gaza,” they said.

What makes this different is the scale, the ferocity, the ubiquitousness of it

James Elder, aid worker

The Israel Defence Forces issued a statement describing the deaths of the aid workers as a tragic incident.

"Following the reports regarding the World Central Kitchen personnel in Gaza today, the IDF is conducting a thorough review at the highest levels to understand the circumstances of this tragic incident.

“The IDF makes extensive efforts to enable the safe delivery of humanitarian aid and has been working closely with WCK in their vital efforts to provide food and humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza.”

Children in Gaza with a World Central Kitchen food package
Children in Gaza with a World Central Kitchen food package

‘Kill zones’: targeting terrorism or terrorising civilians?

The number of dead Gazans is now estimated to be over 32,000. According to the army, some 9,000 of these are terrorists.

But even the Israeli media is beginning to question the number of civilian deaths in Gaza and to ask whether some of those identified as terrorists are civilians.

Haaretz reported that civilians in areas identified as terrorist bases, known as “kill zones”, are routinely assumed to be terrorists.

In practice, a terrorist is anyone the IDF has killed in the areas in which its forces operate

IDF reserve officer

It cited the deaths of four people after a rocket attack on the Israeli city of Ashkelon. The Israeli army had made a standard announcement that, ‘a terrorist who had fired the rocket was identified and an air force aircraft attacked and eliminated him’. But a video on Al-Jazeera showed four men, not one, walking together on a wide path, in civilian clothing. Two of the men were killed instantly. Two others were wounded but seconds later, a bomb was dropped on one of them.

"This was a very grave incident," a senior Israel Defence Forces officer said. "They were unarmed, they didn't endanger our forces in the area in which they were walking."

An intelligence officer commented that it was not at all certain that those killed were involved in launching the rocket. They were simply the people who were closest to the launching site – it's possible they were terrorists, it's possible they were civilians out looking for food, he said.

"In practice, a terrorist is anyone the IDF has killed in the areas in which its forces operate," says a reserve officer who has served in Gaza.

Terrorist base or civilian shelter?

The Israeli occupation of Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City over the past two weeks is another example where Israel says it is targeting terrorists while Palestinians say civilians are the victims.

Israeli forces left Al-Shifa on Monday after a two-week operation by special forces who detained hundreds of suspected Palestinian militants and left a wasteland of destroyed buildings.

Israeli military spokesperson Daniel Hagari said the site had been turned into a major operating centre by the Palestinian armed groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

He said emergency patients had been evacuated from the hospital before the operation and no Palestinian civilians, patients or medical personnel had been harmed by Israeli forces.

Hamas claims Israeli forces killed 400 Palestinians in and around the hospital including a woman doctor and her son, also a doctor, and put the facility out of action.

Thousands of Palestinians - 6,200 according to the Israeli military - had been sheltering in the complex, one of few locations in the north of Gaza with some access to electricity and water.

Humanitarian aid struggles to get through

There is no question that the impact of Israel’s war against Hamas on civilians is devastating.

In two decades at the United Nations children’s fund, Australian James Elder has visited Sudan and Somalia, Ukraine and Mozambique. He’s seen war and famine. Never has he seen anything like the horror in Gaza.

“What makes this different is the scale, the ferocity, the ubiquitousness of it,” Elder told the Sydney Morning Herald from the southern city of Rafah after a week travelling throughout the strip.

“Every time I turn around, there is another horrendous, heartbreaking story. A few days ago, I was in a hospital and there was a little boy who had lost his eye; his sister, a shy girl, had her face terribly disfigured from burns and shrapnel. Two metres away is a mother who has had her leg amputated. Her husband has had two limbs amputated.

“These scenes are everywhere you turn around. That’s what makes Gaza heartbreakingly different.”

Some aid is now flowing into Gaza, but humanitarian agencies say Israeli processes are blocking large amounts of aid.

Israel is refusing to deal with UNRWA, claiming up to 11% of the UN relief agency’s employees are affiliated with Hamas or Islamic Jihad, and that as many as 30 took some part in the October 7 attack on Israel, in which 1,200 people were killed.

UNRWA is by far the biggest aid organisation in Gaza, employing 13,000 staff at the time the war broke out, and running schools and medical centres. Aid workers say Israel’s refusal to deal with the agency is severely restricting the distribution of aid.

Human rights organisations are petitioning Israel’s High Court to force Israel to facilitate more aid getting into Gaza.

Late last week Israel presented a proposal to the UN to dismantle UNRWA and create a replacement agency to deliver large-scale food aid to Gaza.

It has also proposed the creation of a multinational force, spearheaded by friendly Arab countries, to secure the delivery of humanitarian aid in Gaza.


Israel airstrike on Gaza kills Australian aid worker: reports (SMH)

‘Our beautiful sister’: Friends pay tribute to Australian aid worker killed in Gaza (SMH)

Israel created 'kill zones' in Gaza. anyone who crosses into them is shot (Haaretz)

Israeli troops exit Gaza's Shifa Hospital, leaving rubble and bodies (Reuters)

‘Like lying in a coffin’: Australians in Gaza describe utter annihilation (SMH)

Human rights organizations petitioning Israel’s high court to allow more aid to Gaza (CNN)

Israel lodges proposal with UN for dismantling of Palestinian relief agency (Guardian)

Israel pushes for multinational force to secure delivery of Gaza humanitarian aid (Haaretz)


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