UN unsure if ‘air strikes’ behind convoy attack
The Russian Defense Ministry on Tuesday rejected assertions that an aid convoy near Aleppo had been shelled or struck from the air
The United Nations on Tuesday has backtracked and amended its language when it said that the aid convoy in Syria’s Aleppo was “attacked” instead of it being targeted through “air strikes,” a spokesman said.
“We are not in position to determine whether these were in fact air strikes,” the spokesman added.
Earlier, the United Nations asked in vain for warring sides in Syria to stop air strikes targeting an aid convoy, the UN Syria and regional humanitarian coordinators Massimo Diana and Kevin Kennedy said in a joint statement on Tuesday.
“The UN in Syria was informed of the air strikes as they unfolded. Despite our efforts and communications with parties to the conflict, further airstrikes continued throughout the night, hampering efforts to reach and attend to the wounded,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry on Tuesday rejected assertions that an aid convoy near Aleppo had been shelled or struck from the air, saying it believed it had caught fire instead, the Interfax news agency cited spokesman Igor Konashenkov as saying.
It quoted Konashenkov, commenting on the incident which occurred on Monday, as saying that only the White Helmets civil defense rescue group could answer who was responsible and why.
Konashenkov was cited as saying that the White Helmets were close to the militant group formerly known as the Nusra Front.
The ministry also later said that drone footage showed the aid convoy was accompanied by pickup truck of militants with heavy mortar gun.
Syrian opposition slams ‘total weakness’
Syrian opposition leader Riad Hijab on Tuesday accused world powers of showing “total weakness” in the face of the Syrian regime’s renewed attacks and the collapse of a ceasefire.
Hijab told reporters that Russian and Syrian planes bombed an aid convoy that was en route to Aleppo to deliver food and other basic supplies to 78,000 civilians.
“We have no faith in the Russian side because their strategy is purely military,” Hijab told Reuters.
After the deadly targeting of the convoy, the Red Cross suspended all convoys in Syria on Tuesday.
The attack could only have been carried out by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime or his Russian allies and Moscow must take responsibility either way, US officials said.
“The United States is outraged by reports that a humanitarian aid convoy was bombed near Aleppo today,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said.
An opposition activist who witnessed the attack said at least eight vehicles were destroyed together with the Red Crescent’s regional aid depot where they were parked. At least 12 people were killed in the attack, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and opposition activists.
Last week, the United States was forced to apologize after it weakened the ceasefire by bombing Syrian troops, but Washington said it had been accidental.
US officials said there could be no similar excuse from Russia for the targeting of non-combatant aid workers.
“The destination of this convoy was known to the Syrian regime and the Russian Federation,” Kirby said.
“And yet these aid workers were killed in their attempt to provide relief to the Syrian people,” he added.
“Given the egregious violation of the cessation of hostilities we will reassess the future prospects for cooperation with Russia.”
The United Nations earlier has expressed outrage after an aid convoy was hit in Syria, and warned the attack could amount to a war crime if it was deliberate.
UN aid chief Stephen O’Brien called for an investigation into the aid convoy attack.
“Let me be clear: if this callous attack is found to be a deliberate targeting of humanitarians, it would amount to a war crime,” he said.