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Bodies of Brit ex-squaddies killed in Israeli airstrike shipped out of Gaza as heartbreaking tributes to heroes pour in

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THE bodies of the three former British soldiers killed in an Israeli air strike have been transported out of Gaza as they begin their journey back to the UK.

Heartbreaking tributes are flooding in for the Brit “heroes” as Israel faces worldwide condemnation following its devastating triple hit on the aid convoy on Monday.

The bodies of all six foreign aid workers killed in the Israeli strike on their aid trucks (one pictured above) have reached Egypt

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The bodies of all six foreign aid workers killed in the Israeli strike on their aid trucks (one pictured above) have reached EgyptCredit: EPA
Ex-Royal Marine James Henderson was known as a 'gentle giant' by his rugby friends

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Ex-Royal Marine James Henderson was known as a ‘gentle giant’ by his rugby friendsCredit: Collect
Dead-of-three John Chapman, former SBS, has been hailed as a 'hero' by his devastated family

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Dead-of-three John Chapman, former SBS, has been hailed as a ‘hero’ by his devastated familyCredit: wck.org
The family of ex-sniper James Kirby said they were 'incredibly proud' of what he achieved

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The family of ex-sniper James Kirby said they were ‘incredibly proud’ of what he achieved

The British victims included a former SBS special forces hero John Chapman, 57, ex-Royal Marine James Henderson, 33, and former Rifleman James Kirby, 47.

The other victims included a Polish citizen, an Australian and a Canadian-American who all worked for World Central Kitchen and were distributing food aid when they were hit.

Their Palestinian driver was also killed, and his remains were handed over to his family for burial in Gaza.

This afternoon all six bodies of the foreign aid workers were transported out of Gaza into Egypt through the Rafah crossing.

read more on israel-hamas war

Israel has insisted the deadly strike was a “grave mistake” that was a result of “misidentification” and has launched an investigation.

However, the hit on the charity’s convoy has drawn sharp criticism from Israel’s allies and critics saw it was a clear example of Israel’s indiscriminate bombing in the Strip.

President Joe Biden condemned the blitz as “outrageous” and PM Rishi Sunak told Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu that he was “appalled” by the charity worker’s deaths.

Witnesses said civilians who survived the strike on the first car ran to the other vehicles to escape but were blown to bits in the follow up strikes.

The WCK vehicles were clearly marked with the charity’s logo – including with stickers on the roof to be visible to drones.

Rishi Sunak reveals he told Israeli PM deaths of ‘brave Brits’ in Gaza was ‘intolerable’ in blunt phone call

Shocking pictures of the aftermath show how a missile ripped a hole in one of the cars’ roofs, cutting through the WCK logo.

In a grovelling apology, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said the strike was a “grave mistake”.

He said the results of a preliminary investigation showed the convoy was misidentified.

He said: “The strike was not carried out with the intention of harming WCK aid workers. 

One of WCK's clearly marked aid trucks in the aftermath of the deadly strike

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One of WCK’s clearly marked aid trucks in the aftermath of the deadly strikeCredit: EPA
The seven slain aid workers killed in the disaster

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The seven slain aid workers killed in the disasterCredit: PA
Bloodied UK, Polish & Australian passports were found in the wrecked cars

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Bloodied UK, Polish & Australian passports were found in the wrecked carsCredit: AP
IDF chief of Staff produced a grovelling apology, saying the strike was a result of a 'misidentification'

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IDF chief of Staff produced a grovelling apology, saying the strike was a result of a ‘misidentification’Credit: Israeli Defence Forces

“It was a mistake that followed a misidentification – at night during a war in very complex conditions. It shouldn’t have happened.”

He added: “This incident was a grave mistake. Israel is at war with Hamas, not with the people of Gaza. 

“We are sorry for the unintentional harm to the members of WCK. We share in the grief of their families, as well as the entire WCK Organisation, from the bottom of our hearts.”

Halevi said a probe had been launched into the bombing and the conclusion would be announced immediately.

It followed Israeli PM Netanyahu’s confession on Tuesday that Israel was behind the deadly air strike, but he claimed “this happens in war”.

PM Sunak last night told Netanyahu he was appalled by the strike and said Israel’s aim of defeating Hamas would not be achieved by allowing a humanitarian disaster.

He added: “We are asking Israel to investigate what happened urgently.

“Clearly there are questions that need to be answered.”

Almost 33,000 people have died as a result of Israel’s six month blitz on Gaza, around two thirds of them women and children according to Hamas-run officials.

TRIBUTES FOR THE BRIT HEROES

The devastated family of dad-of-three John Chapman paid tribute today to an “incredible father, husband, son and brother”.

The Special Forces hero, from Poole, had been in Gaza only a few weeks after stints in the Middle East.

In a statement the family said: “We are devastated to have lost John, who was killed in Gaza.

“He died trying to help people and was subject to an inhumane act…He was loved by many and will forever be a hero. He will be missed dearly”.

Former Corporal James Kirby joined the Light Infantry as a teenager and served as both a regular and reserve in Bosnia, Northern Ireland and Afghanistan in a career spanning almost 20 years.

His devastated family said they are “incredibly proud of who James was and what he achieved”, adding he will be remembered as a “hero”.

The slain aid workers were ‘the best of humanity’

José Andres, head of WCK

They told the BBC: “Despite the risks, his compassionate nature drove him to offer assistance to those in dire need.

“A genuine gentleman, James was always willing to lend a helping hand to anyone, even in the face of senseless violence.

“James lost his life trying to save others, he will never know what a void he has left, our family will never be the same.”

The third Brit victim, James Henderson, joined the Royal Marines at 19 and spent six years in the elite commando force before switching to private security.

Pals paid tribute to the “gentle giant”, known as Jim, who was a keen rugby player for Penryn RFC, in Cornwall, since he was a schoolboy.

Following the news of his death on Tuesday, around 40 team mates as well as friends and family met at the clubhouse to toast his memory and the flag at the club was lowered to half mast.

Marek Churcher, the club’s Director of Rugby, said: “He was a really physical lad on the field and a gentle giant off it.

“He was somebody we loved to have around and missed when he was away.

He continued: “Everybody is totally shocked by what happened, we gathered last night to raise a glass to him… we will miss him a lot.”

“As much as it is a horrible thing, it shows how loved he was and how he brought people together. It’s been a really difficult time for those of us who knew him but he will be remembered for a long time.”

The ex-Special Force security firm which employed the three British victims also shared: “Words cannot express the depth of sympathy that we feel for the families, friends, colleagues and loved ones of those who died”.

Solace Global, based in Poole, added: “We are humbled by the bravery of the men and women working in such complex environments to deliver vital aid, and pay tribute to those that lost their lives on Monday.

Chef José Andres, who founded World Central Kitchen, said that all seven slain aid workers were the “best of humanity”.

Erin Gore, the charity’s CEO, said they were “the heroes of World Central Kitchen”.

She added: “These seven beautiful souls were killed by the IDF in a strike as they were returning from a full day’s mission. 

“Their smiles, laughter, and voices are forever embedded in our memories.”

Medics prepare the bodies of World Central Kitchen workers, who were killed in Israeli air strikes, for their return to their home counties

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Medics prepare the bodies of World Central Kitchen workers, who were killed in Israeli air strikes, for their return to their home countiesCredit: Getty
Damian Sobol from Poland was also killed in the strike

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Damian Sobol from Poland was also killed in the strikeCredit: wck.org
Palestinian Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha's body has been returned to his relatives

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Palestinian Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha’s body has been returned to his relativesCredit: wck.org

‘SHOOT FIRST, QUESTION LATER’

Today, a top Israeli official blasted the “shoot first, question later” mindset plaguing the IDF in the wake of deaths of the charity workers.

He blamed trigger-happy rogue troops for the disaster after accusing them of “violating” rules of engagement in a war zone.

Speaking to the Times of Israel, the anonymous senior official argued that such a culture was clearly on display in late December when Israeli troops shot dead three Israeli hostages who had escaped captivity and were waving white flags.

Earlier today, Israeli defence insiders rubbished official claims that the deadly error was a “coordination issue” and instead claimed it was due to “out of control” IDF units inside Gaza.

Sources told Israel’s Haaretz newspaper that troops in the Gaza Strip had broken direct orders because “in the Strip, everyone does what they like”.

Lord Rickets, a former Foreign Office chief, today called for a halt to UK arms sales to Israel amid growing fury at the slaughter in Gaza.

Following The Sun’s revelation that all three British victims were former members of the armed forces, Lord Rickets told the BBC there was, “abundant evidence that Israel hasn’t been taking enough care to fulfil its obligations on the safety of citizens.”

FOOD AID

The WCK vehicles were in the process of transporting that aid to 1.7 million Palestinians forced from their homes by war before they were hit.

The charity, which has worked worldwide, including in Ukraine, has been active in Gaza since Israel declared war on Hamas after the terror group slaughtered more than 1,110 people on October 7.

WCK says it has served around 240,000 meals a day — a total of 42 million — and have been central in establishing a maritime aid corridor between Cyprus and Gaza.

The hostilities have meant aid has struggled to reach Palestinians by land, so WCK and Cypriot authorities last month established the first aid delivery by sea.

A second convoy of three ships carrying 400 tons of aid landed on Monday, with the IDF involved in coordinating the delivery.

Six months into the gruelling war and experts say that nearly a third of Gaza’s population are on the brink of starvation.

However, the deaths of the WCK workers threatened to set back efforts by the US and other countries to open a maritime corridor for aid from Cyprus to help ease the desperate conditions inside Gaza.

Cpyrus said that ships carrying 240 tones of food aid had to return to the Mediterranean island following the strike on the aid workers.

The Sun’s Defence Editor’s analysis of the Middle East tinderbox

By Jerome Starkey, The Sun’s Defence Editor

FEARS that the Middle East could explode into all-out war are ratcheting up today after Iran vowed vengeance for a deadly Israeli missile strike on its embassy in Damascus, the capital of Syria.

At least 11 people were killed when a consular annex was reduced to rubble by strikes which Iran says were carried out by Israeli F-35 fighter jets.

Now among those 11 killed were two top Iranian generals, Brigadier Mohammed Reza Zahidi, who we understand commanded Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in Syria and neighbouring Iraq, and Brigadier Mohammed Haji Rahimi.

Also among the dead is a representative of the Hezbollah terrorist group Hussein Yusuf.

Both Iran and Hezbollah have vowed vengeance, with Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi saying this strike will not go unanswered.

The suggestion is that perhaps Israel has crossed a threshold with a strike on an embassy.

Embassies are sovereign soil of the nations they belong to, so this was a strike on sovereign Iranian soil in Syria and in one sense it is an escalation and the concerns that this could spiral out are in many ways well founded.

Interestingly today we’ve heard reports in the local media in Syria and in the region that America appears to be distancing itself from this strike, officials saying they had no advanced knowledge.

It would appear that the reason for this missile strike was the meeting between these Revolutionary Guard commanders and the representatives of Hezbollah.

We will now have to wait and see how Iran chooses to take its revenge.

Now of course, if you are an Israeli diplomat living abroad, then you may well think that you are now more of a target.

Because Israel has targeted an Iranian embassy, we may expect to see the possibility that Itan may target Israeli diplomats or missions around the world.

And we have just seen, in the last few days suspected Iranian agents attacking an Iranian journalist here in London.

Tehran is showing, perhaps by this stabbing that it maintains the ability and the capability to attack people it sees as critical of the regime enemies of the regime around the world.

Some context that we understand that Tehran employs criminal proxies to carry out that sort of dirty work doesn’t necessarily have the same sort of sophisticated overseas operations that we might expect of other hostile actors like Russia.

But nonetheless, I think in the wake of what happened in Damascus on Monday, combined with what’s been happening across the region in recent months, there is concern and anxiety to see how Iran responds and what that will elicit from Israel. 

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