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UK media united in outrage at Israeli aid worker drone strikes

The front pages of every major UK newspaper on Wednesday covered the Israeli drone strikes that killed three British aid workers, all of whom were forces veterans
John Chapman (l), James Kirby (c) and James Henderson (r) were killed in Israeli drone strikes on Monday 1 April 2024 (Reuters/Collage)

The front pages of every major UK newspaper on Wednesday carried condemnation and outrage at the Israeli air strikes on Monday that killed seven aid workers, three of whom were British forces veterans.

James Henderson, 33, John Chapman, 57, and James Kirby, 47, were in Gaza as part of the charity World Central Kitchen's (WCK) security team. All three worked for the security company Solace Global, based in Poole, Dorset, on England's south coast.

Henderson was a former British marine; Chapman had been part of the British navy's elite Special Boat Service (SBS) unit and Kirby was also an army veteran.

The death of three veterans of the armed forces in three targeted Israeli air strikes – which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said were "unintentional" – has united the British press in outrage for the first time since Israel's war on Gaza began after the Hamas-led attacks of 7 October.

The coverage marks one of the worst days Israel has ever had in Britain in terms of public relations. On Wednesday the death toll from Israel's operations in Gaza rose to 32,972. 

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British newspapers from across the political spectrum ran with the story on their front pages. "Killed trying to feed starving kids", said the Daily Mirror under the banner "Gaza aid workers horror". "Brits are among the victims of merciless Israeli drone strike," the left-of-centre tabloid reported. 

The usually staunchly pro-Israel right-wing tabloids were just as aghast. "Three Britons killed on Gaza mercy mission," said the Daily Express. The Daily Mail's front page was: "Three UK forces veterans killed by Israeli strike."

British front pages
The front pages of British newspapers on 3 April 2024 (Collage)

The Sun, owned by the Murdoch family's News UK group, went with: "SBS hero killed in Gaza air strike." The tabloid reported: "SBS hero John Chapman and former marine James Henderson were travelling in a clearly-marked car, operated by charity World Central Kitchen, when the convoy was struck with three missiles fired by an IDF [Israeli army] drone."

The front page of another News UK paper, the Times, ran: "Outcry at aid worker deaths."  The paper reported that Henderson had arrived in Gaza to work with WCK on 27 March and was due to leave the Palestinian enclave on Monday. 

The Telegraph, a right-wing broadsheet that has also maintained a staunchly pro-Israel line, splashed with: "PM demands answers after Israel air strike kills Britons." Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has called on Israel to undertake a "transparent investigation" into the air strikes.

The media outrage in Britain has not been confined to newspapers. Nick Ferrari, a presenter on the talk radio station LBC, told listeners that, "This is indefensible… Every single fact is horrific".

Ferrari pointed out that the clearly marked aid vehicles were travelling on routes "approved by the Israeli Defence Forces". 

"From one friend to another, this has to stop," the presenter said, before adding that there was a chance that British-made components were in the missiles that killed the British aid workers. Ferrari then called for a suspension of arms sales to Israel. 

According to a recording leaked to the Observer of remarks made by Alicia Kearns, the Conservative Party chair of the House of Commons select committee on foreign affairs, the British government has already "completed its updated assessment on whether Israel is demonstrating a commitment to international humanitarian law", and has "concluded that Israel is not demonstrating this commitment”. 

Under its own arms exporting criteria, the British government is obligated to suspend licences for arms exports if it determines that there is a clear risk that British weapons might be used in such violations.

In the face of this media outrage, Israeli spokespeople have struggled to explain what happened to British broadcast journalists. 

Krishnan Guru-Murthy, a Channel 4 News presenter, asked Israeli spokesperson David Mencer, a former director of the Labour party's Friends of Israel (LFI) group, if the Israeli government was going to apologise to the families of those killed in the strikes.

Mencer said that "all of us have expressed grief about this occurrence" but did not offer an apology. "If you can't answer the questions I can't allow you to do the propaganda bit afterwards," Guru-Murthy said as he ended the interview early.

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