UN suspends Syrian aid after air strike on convoy
AFP photoThe United Nations suspended all humanitarian convoys in Syria on Sept. 20 following a deadly air strike on aid trucks, as fighting intensified after the regime declared an end to a week-long truce, even as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the “cease-fire was not dead.”
Both Syria and Russia denied they were behind the raid on the convoy near Aleppo, which the Red Cross said killed “around 20 civilians” including an employee of the Syrian Red Crescent.
Air raids and shelling, meanwhile, pounded key battlefronts across the country – dimming hopes that the fraught cease-fire brokered by Moscow and Washington could be revived.
In brief remarks to reporters as he left a New York hotel after a meeting of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), Kerry said hopes for a cease-fire in Syria remained alive and talks would reconvene later this week.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon opened the General Assembly of the United Nations debate with a call to end the fighting in Syria.
“I appeal to all those with influence to end the fighting and get talks started,” Ban said.
The Sept. 19 strike on the aid convoy provoked outrage from U.N. officials, with aid chief Stephen O’Brien warning that, if deliberate, “it would amount to a war crime.”
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the Sept. 19 night’s raid destroyed at least 18 of 31 vehicles, as well as a Red Crescent warehouse in Orum al-Kubra in Syria’s Aleppo province.
Omar Barakat, who headed the local Red Crescent branch, was wounded in the strike and later died, IFRC spokesman Benoit Carpentier told reporters in Geneva.
U.N. humanitarian agency OCHA said the movements of all aid convoys in Syria had been suspended as an “immediate security measure” after the raid.
The attack marked a “very, very dark day for humanitarians in Syria and indeed across the world,” OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke said, adding that it was “paramount that we are able to establish the facts through an independent investigation.”
A Syrian military source denied any regime involvement, telling state media: “There is no truth to media reports that the Syrian army targeted a convoy of humanitarian aid in Aleppo province.”
The Russian Defense Ministry also said both its forces and the Syrian air force “did not conduct any strikes against the U.N. aid convoy.”
The ministry rejected assertions that the aid convoy had been shelled or struck from the air, saying it had caught fire instead.
“We have studied video footage from the scene from so-called ‘activists’ in detail and did not find any evidence that the convoy had been struck by ordnance,” Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the ministry said in a statement. “There are no craters and the exterior of the vehicles do not have the kind of damage consistent with blasts caused by bombs dropped from the air.”
Konashenkov said damage to the convoy visible in footage was instead the direct result of its cargo catching fire which he said had “oddly” occurred at the same time as militants had started a big offensive in nearby Aleppo.
On the other hand, a rescue worker, Hussein Badawi, who leads the Syrian Civil Defense – also known as the White Helmets – who witnessed the strikes told the Associated Press that more than 20 missiles pounded the area for hours, even hitting his team as they searched the debris for survivors.