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Parents of Quebecer killed in Gaza say Israeli strike was 'targeted killing of aid workers'

Quebecer Jacob Flickinger among 7 aid workers killed by Israeli strike in Gaza

One of the seven aid workers killed by an Israeli strike in Gaza was 33-year-old Jacob Flickinger, a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces who grew up in Quebec's Beauce region and was the father of an 18-month-old boy.

Flickinger, a dual Canadian and United States citizen, had been in Gaza volunteering for World Central Kitchen since early March, his family said in an interview Wednesday.

Aid workers have been racing to distribute food as famine looms in Gaza, six months after Israel's invasion.

But delivering aid has proven deadly. More than 196 humanitarian workers, many of them Palestinians working for UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency), have been killed since the invasion's start in October, according to Aid Worker Security Database, a U.S.-funded group recording major incidents of violence against aid personnel.

Flickinger's parents, Sylvie Labrecque and John Flickinger, say the attack on Flickinger and six of his colleagues was a clear targeted attack by Israel Defence Forces (IDF) because of how obviously marked the World Central Kitchen convoy was. It was also travelling on a well-used humanitarian route and the group had co-ordinated its movements in advance with the IDF, they said.

"In my mind, this was a targeted killing of aid workers who happened to be foreign," Flickinger's father said in an interview with CBC News Wednesday afternoon.

"Most of the aid workers killed to date have been from Gaza. And it's part of an attempt to — I don't know whether what they're thinking of starving the population in Palestine, I don't know. Punishment, revenge and war. This war is senseless. All wars are senseless," Flickinger said, sitting alongside his ex-wife, Labrecque, in her home in Saint-Georges, about 200 kilometres northeast of Montreal.

Jacob Flickinger, a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces who grew up in Quebec, was one of seven World Central Kitchen workers killed in a strike Israel has called unintentional. 'Their convoy was marked, clearly marked, and they are on a well-used humanitarian route. So in my opinion, it was a targeted kill,' his father, John Flickinger, told CBC News.

WATCH | Jacob Flickinger's parents believe the attack on aid workers was deliberate

Flickinger and six other World Central Kitchen workers had been travelling back to their base Monday after unloading 90 tonnes of food aid at the Deir al-Balah warehouse, the group said in a statement.

The workers were travelling in a deconflicted zone in two armoured cars branded with the WCK logo and a "soft skin vehicle." They were struck despite having co-ordinated their movements with the IDF, the group said.

The six other workers were British, Polish, Australian and Palestinian, according to WCK, which released their names, photos and ages on Tuesday.

Israel's military chief, Lt.-Gen. Herzi Halevi, said Wednesday that a preliminary investigation following the attack revealed it was "a mistake that followed a misidentification."

"At night, during a war in very complex conditions. It shouldn't have happened," he said. Halevi gave no further details.

He said an independent body would conduct a "thorough investigation" that would be completed in the coming days.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had earlier acknowledged the "unintended strike … on innocent people" and said officials would work to ensure it did not happen again.

Flickinger's parents called for a ceasefire in Gaza and the return of hostages to Israel.

"It's not only our son who's gone. All these families are affected, so I'm just hoping that they're not gone for nothing," Labrecque said. "This hatred just seems to have no end," Flickinger said.

11 years of military service

Jacob Flickinger, who spent 11 years in the Canadian Armed Forces and had spent eight months in Afghanistan, had recently settled with his wife, Sandy Leclerc, and their 18-month-old son in Costa Rica, his parents said.

"They were a happy little family. Together, they were extremely happy and they loved each other desperately. And they had great projects for the future, for themselves and the child," said Labrecque. The baby was Jacob's "greatest joy," his father said, tearing up. Flickinger's family has preferred not to share his young son's identity.

"Now, things have changed drastically."

Leclerc, who is from the Quebec City area, has remained in Costa Rica to grieve, where her father flew from Quebec to join her, Labrecque said.

In the months before travelling to Gaza for World Central Kitchen, Flickinger had completed a contract for the charity in Acapulco, Mexico, following a hurricane there. As he did in Gaza, Flickinger helped with security and logistics in delivering food aid.

Labrecque said the work was ideal for Flickinger, putting his military training and skills to good use. "He was doing what he loved, which was helping people," she said.

She and John Flickinger said they have been flooded with messages from people around the world who knew their son, either from his work with the military or for various organizations.

"He was the best, most loyal friend you could ask for," his father said. "He touched many people."

Cendrine White, who met Flickinger at a conference in 2019 where he had been holding a workshop on outdoor survival, was one of those people. She recalled how Flickinger could command the attention in a room, saying "all stares would all just like go right at him." She said her friend "was invincible" in her mind.

Cendrine White says she was shocked when she learned her friend, Jacob Flickinger, was one of seven World Central Kitchen workers killed in a strike that Israel has called unintentional. 'I just could not believe it because he was invincible in my mind,' she told CBC News.

"He was a man that did not compromise. He was being the best version of himself and he didn't only say it, he acted on it. He was just trying to become the inspiration for people around him," White said.

Flickinger was born in Saint-Georges, where his mother still lives, but the family soon moved to Miami, where his father is from and currently lives. Labrecque and John Flickinger separated when Jacob was five and he and his mother moved back to the Beauce region, where he grew up after that, Labrecque explained.

John Flickinger received the call from World Central Kitchen Monday evening explaining that his son had been killed. He flew to Quebec to deliver the news to his ex-wife in person.

World leaders have condemned the attack on the aid convoy. U.S. President Joe Biden issued an unusually blunt criticism of his country's close ally, suggesting that the deaths demonstrated Israel was not doing enough to protect civilians.

"Israel has not done enough to protect aid workers trying to deliver desperately needed help to civilians," he said, adding he was "outraged and heartbroken" by their killings. "Incidents like yesterday's simply should not happen."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the attack on aid workers was "absolutely unacceptable."

"The world needs clear answers as to how this happened," Trudeau said. "We need to again continue to push for more humanitarian aid and a ceasefire that will bring that kind of support to the people throughout Gaza."

Israel's invasion of Gaza follow an unprecedented attack by Hamas that killed 1,139 people in southern Israel on Oct. 7, 2023. Fighters took 253 hostages, 130 of whom remain in captivity and at least 34 are presumed dead.

Since then, 32,975 people have been killed in Gaza, the Hamas-run health ministry there said this week.