GAZA STRIP - It was not a single rogue missile that killed seven aid workers on the coast road in central Gaza between 10 and 11pm on Monday night but three precisely targeted missiles.

According to unnamed Israeli security sources who briefed the local media, they were dropped in succession from a Hermes 450 drone with sophisticated night sights and deliberately guided down on to the three clearly marked humanitarian vehicles travelling below.

Even though the drone pilots would have had both the authority and technical means to swerve the bombs away until the very last moment, they chose not to.

On the ground it was carnage. As the first vehicle was hit, several aid workers reportedly scrambled from it and into the other cars, before it was reduced to a burnt-out shell.

An emergency call was put in to the Israeli authorities, who had cleared the mission ahead of time, but to no avail.

As the two remaining vehicles continued their journey south on the Al Rashid Road, one was hit by a bomb that passed through the humanitarian badge on its roof.

The third vehicle got another kilometre and a half before it, too, was picked off. All that remained of it at first light on Tuesday morning was a twisted, blackened hulk of metal.

Gruesome pictures of the corpses of the seven victims – not all of them yet formally identified – started circulating on social media soon after, some torn beyond recognition.

Pictures of three blood-stained passports, one British, one Polish and one Australian, were also shared widely across the internet.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) claimed on Tuesday in off-record briefings to the Israeli press that it had been targeting an “armed” Hamas operative.

A military lawyer, an intelligence officer and a senior commander would have to approve the strike, as per IDF standard drone operating protocol.

Yet even in the unlikely event that the extra-judicial killing of seven aid workers could be justified because of the presence of a single terror suspect, it later transpired he was not even travelling in the convoy.

“According to the defence sources, that armed man did not leave the warehouse,” reported the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. “The cars travelled along a route preapproved and coordinated with the IDF.”

The attack on aid workers could not have come at a more sensitive time for Israel, whose six-month assault on Gaza has claimed more than 32,000 Palestinian lives, according to Hamas, and sparked a devastating humanitarian disaster.

Pictures of three blood-stained passports, one British, one Polish and one Australian, were shared widely across the internet - AFP/Getty

In addition to civilians, some 196 aid workers have been killed in Gaza since the war began on Oct 7 – more than in any other conflict, according to Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state.

On Thursday, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague said “famine is setting in” among Gaza’s 2.3 million population and ordered Israel to ensure “the unhindered provision at scale” of aid and humanitarian assistance.

The ICJ took action as part of its investigation into allegations, vehemently disputed, that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza with its response to Hamas’s Oct 7 attack.

That the IDF should hit World Central Kitchen (WCK), one of the few humanitarian groups not overtly regarded with suspicion by Israel, is also a shock.

The group, which has operated in over 20 countries across the world, is independent of the United Nations and is seen as one of the few viable alternatives to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which Israel continues to assert has been irrevocably compromised by Hamas.

The chef Jose Andres, who started WCK in 2010 by sending cooks and food to Haiti after an earthquake, said he was heartbroken.

“The Israeli government needs to stop this indiscriminate killing,” he said on X. “It needs to stop restricting humanitarian aid, stop killing civilians and aid workers, and stop using food as a weapon.”

WCK operates 68 kitchens in Gaza and has sent in more than 1,700 trucks loaded with food since the war began six months ago.

It has gained a reputation for boldness, becoming the first group to deliver aid to Gaza by sea in nearly two decades by constructing a jetty out of rubble.

The move to bring aid into Gaza by sea followed hold-ups on the land border. WCK has said Israeli inspectors block an average of 10 of the 20 aid trucks it sends to Gaza via the Rafah border every day. Sometimes none get through.

The killings of the aid workers could damage efforts to provide aid to Gazans as famine looms. On Tuesday, Cyprus said a ship loaded with supplies would return to port until the safety of aid workers can be guaranteed.

Ehud Olmert, Israel’s former prime minister, told Sky News the killings were “disgusting” and “Israel should apologise formally”.

Prof Ben Saul, UN special rapporteur on protecting human rights while countering terrorism, said Israel’s reported killing of the WCK aid workers in Gaza could be a war crime.

“It’s a human tragedy. But, of course, it could well be a violation of international humanitarian law, under which Israel has a duty not to deliberately target humanitarian relief workers or their convoys or their relief consignments,” said Prof Saul.

He added: “[Israel] also has a wider duty to ensure the safety of humanitarian workers in a conflict zone; to ensure their freedom of movement and to coordinate with them so that these kinds of tragedies never happen.”