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Food aid groups forced to suspend operations after Israeli airstrikes in Gaza

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Aid workers killed by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza included Zomi Frankcom. She was Australian and worked for chef Jose Andres' World Central Kitchen. She spoke a couple of years ago on NPR with our colleague, Michel Martin.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ZOMI FRANKCOM: It's been a real honor to work with World Central Kitchen all over the world and just see, in the worst of times, the best in humanity shows up.

INSKEEP: Certainly the worst of times. Since the strike, several aid organizations have suspended operations in Gaza, and one of them is a group called Anera. It is a World Central Kitchen partner, we're told, and its board members include Rebecca Abou-Chedid, who's come by our studio, Studio 31.

Good morning. Thanks for coming by.

REBECCA ABOU-CHEDID: Good morning. Thanks.

INSKEEP: What was your group doing in Gaza?

ABOU-CHEDID: So Anera has been in Gaza for 56 years. We serve Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan, and we have operations in Egypt. We've been providing, on average, 150,000 meals a day with our partners, like World Central Kitchen. We provide health care, hygienic supplies, psychosocial services. And for the past six months, we've partnered - because we are boots-on-the-ground kind of last-mile delivery NGO, and we're one of the only American NGOs that has people and staff in Gaza. We've been partnering with over 40 other NGOs to provide aid on the ground.

INSKEEP: I'm thinking this through. First, I know that Jose Andres works with local people. So the fact that you had local people in Gaza is why you would have worked with World Central Kitchen. That makes sense. The other thing that really strikes me is you said you've worked there for 56 years...

ABOU-CHEDID: That's right.

INSKEEP: ...Meaning that your group has worked there in Gaza through multiple previous wars.

ABOU-CHEDID: That's right.

INSKEEP: To pause now must mean it's pretty bad.

ABOU-CHEDID: This is the first time in 56 years that we've had to pause operations. It's also the first time that we've lost a staff member. We also lost our staff member, Mousa Shawwa, in an Israeli missile strike just the day after the State of the Union. And just a few weeks later, his son Karim died from wounds from that same missile strike, and several of his family were injured.

INSKEEP: Do you have any clarity about how that missile strike happened? In this most recent one, the Israelis have acknowledged at least that it was an accident.

ABOU-CHEDID: No. We've asked several times and haven't gotten anywhere near the same kind of response as we've seen the past 24 hours. And that's concerning. And that's one of the reasons that we did have to pause operations, because we can no longer guarantee the safety of our workers.

INSKEEP: Israel called this most recent incident an accident. Do you accept that?

ABOU-CHEDID: I think that needs to be investigated. And that needs to be investigated not just by the Israelis but by the Americans - one of the aid workers was an American citizen - and also by the United Nations. What we know is that there was a convoy of three cars, and it was - and each of those cars was struck. And when the first car was struck, we know that the aid workers got out of the car, tried to run to the second car for safety. The second car was struck. Survivors ran from the second car to the third car, and that car was struck. Those are facts, and those facts deserve to be investigated. And the families of those workers and the other World Central kitchen workers deserve a response, as do our staff and all of the other humanitarian aid workers. There have been almost 200 humanitarian aid workers that have died in the past six months. And this is a pattern.

INSKEEP: When you say it needs to be investigated, are you asking the question as to whether Israel is targeting aid workers in Gaza?

ABOU-CHEDID: Yes. Yes. It's part of a pattern, and that's something that even President Biden has said. And so when you see journalists and humanitarian aid workers - people who should be completely off limits in a war, according to international humanitarian law - be targeted over and over and over again, that needs to be looked at very seriously.

INSKEEP: OK. You said pause, not end, your operations in Gaza. What would you need to resume?

ABOU-CHEDID: I'll tell you. We are incredibly proud of our staff. And our staff - as I noted earlier - they are Palestinian. And so they're part of the community that they're serving.

INSKEEP: They're there whether Anera's working or not.

ABOU-CHEDID: They cannot come and go. They are living under the same famine. They have been displaced several times from their homes. They are living under indiscriminate bombing on a daily basis. And both they and we are incredibly proud that through all of this, they have not paused for a day to provide services for their local community. And what we need is assurances. We need an immediate cease-fire, and we need a surge of aid. Yesterday, a cable came out that said that there is enough flour - just 25 miles from Gaza and Ashdod, there is enough flour to feed 1.5 million Palestinians for five months. But it's not being allowed through.

INSKEEP: That 25 miles could be a million miles effectively. Thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate it...

ABOU-CHEDID: Thank you.

INSKEEP: ...And for coming by our studios. Rebecca Abou-Chedid with Anera. For more views on the conflict and analysis, go to npr.org/middleeast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.