UN suspends all convoys in Syria after attack on aid trucks
Published 20/09/2016 | 15:36
THE UN humanitarian aid agency has suspended all convoys in Syria following an overnight attack on aid trucks.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said the attack killed about 20 civilians, mostly truck drivers and Red Crescent workers.
The attack plunged Syria's US-Russia-brokered ceasefire further into doubt.
The Syrian military, just hours earlier, had declared the week-long truce had failed.
The United States said it was prepared to extend the truce deal and Russia - after blaming rebels for the violations - suggested it could still be salvaged.
It was not clear who was behind the attack late on Monday, which sent a red fireball into the sky over a rural area in western Aleppo province.
Both Syrian and Russian aircraft operate over the province, while the US-led coalition targets the Islamic State group in other parts of the country.
In Geneva, Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said that all aid deliveries had been halted pending a review of the security situation in Syria in the aftermath of the attacks.
Mr Laerke called it "a very, very dark day... for humanitarians across the world".
A member of the Syrian Civil Defence - a group of volunteer first responders also known as the White Helmets - criticised the UN humanitarian aid agency for suspending the convoys.
Ibrahim Alhaj said that Syrian civilians will pay the price for the decision - and that the UN should have condemned the attacks on the convoy rather than suspending aid.
The ICRC and the Syrian Red Crescent issued a statement on Tuesday saying 20 civilians had been killed in the convoy attack, many of them struck while offloading aid from the trucks.
Much of that aid had been destroyed, they said. ICRC President Peter Maurer said the attack was a "flagrant violation of international humanitarian law" and "totally unacceptable".
Syrian activists and paramedics had said earlier that the attacks killed 12 people.
Among the victims was Omar Barakat who headed the Red Crescent in Uram al-Kubra, the town where the attack occurred, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, and Aleppo-based activist Bahaa al-Halaby said.
The White Helmets first responder group posted images of a number of vehicles on fire and a video of the attack showed huge balls of fire in a pitch black area, as ambulances arrive on the scene.
The convoy was part of a routine interagency dispatch operated by the Syrian Red Crescent.
UN officials said it was delivering assistance for 78,000 people in the town of Uram al-Kubra, west of the city of Aleppo. Initial estimates indicate that about 18 of the 31 trucks in the convoy were hit, as well as the Red Crescent warehouse in the area.
World Health OrganiSation spokesman Christian Lindmeier said the convoy was expected to carry medicines, emergency health kits, trauma kits, burn kits and IV fluids.
"All this was supposed to have been on that convoy, but I do not have a breakdown of what got destroyed and what did not get destroyed," he said.
When asked who was behind the attacks, Rami Abdurrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Syrian president Bashar Assad's "regime does not have the capabilities to carry out such air strikes within two hours".
He said the air strikes on Aleppo province, including the ones that hit the convoy, were part of some 40 air raids that lasted about two hours and that "it was mostly Russian wa rplanes who carried out the air raid".
Mr al-Halaby said that rebels in Aleppo province also claimed Russian aircraft were behind the attack.
The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group in Syria, said Russia's air forces and government warplanes dropped 25 bombs, damaging some 20 trucks and destroying the Red Crescent warehouse in Uram al-Kubra.
A paramedic, speaking in a video released by Aleppo 24 News, a media collective, blamed Russian and government war planes as well as Syrian army helicopter gunships that he said dropped barrel bombs.
The Syrian and Russian militaries both denied on Tuesday they were involved in the attack.
UN humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien called on "all parties to the conflict, once again, to take all necessary measures to protect humanitarian actors, civilians, and civilian infrastructure as required by international humanitarian law".
Despite the attack, the UN appeared to move forward with aid air-drops in Syria.
World Food Programme spokeswoman Bettina Luescher said in a statement that the UN food agency had air-dropped aid to besieged neighbourhoods in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour earlier Tuesday "as part of the planned schedule of deliveries".
Also Tuesday, the Observatory said government forces launched an offensive in the Handarat area, just north of the city of Aleppo, in what appears to be an attempt to tighten the siege on rebel-held parts of Syria's largest city.