Syria cease-fire fal­ters amid deadly strikes on aid con­voy

Malta Independent - - WORLD - Bassem Mroue

Syria’s cease-fire has fal­tered fur­ther after an aid con­voy was hit by airstrikes, with ac­tivists say­ing at least 12 peo­ple were killed in the at­tack, mostly truck driv­ers and Red Cres­cent work­ers.

The strikes late on Monday came just hours after the Syr­ian mil­i­tary de­clared the week-long U.S.-Rus­sian bro­kered cease-fire 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, which sent a red fire­ball into the sky in the dead of night over a ru­ral area in Aleppo prov­ince. Both Syr­ian and Rus­sian air­craft op­er­ate over Syria, as well as the U.S.-led coali­tion that is tar­get­ing the Is­lamic State group.

U.N. of­fi­cials said the U.N. and Red Cres­cent con­voy was de­liv­er­ing as­sis­tance for 78,000 peo­ple in the town of Uram al-Kubra, west of the north­ern 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.

The Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights, an ac­tivist group that tracks the civil war, said at least 12 were killed in the at­tack, mostly truck driv­ers and Red Cres­cent work­ers. The Syr­ian Civil De­fense, the vol­un­teer first re­spon­der group also known as the White Hel­mets, con­firmed that ca­su­alty fig­ure.

Jan Ege­land, hu­man­i­tar­ian aid co­or­di­na­tor in the of­fice of the U.N. en­voy for Syria, told The As-

so­ci­ated Press in a text mes­sage that the con­voy was “bom­barded.”

Ege­land added, “It is out­ra­geous that it was hit while of­fload­ing at ware­houses.”

U. N. 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.”

The con­voy, part of a rou­tine in­ter­a­gency dis­patch op­er­ated by the Syr­ian Red Cres­cent, was hit in ru­ral western Aleppo prov­ince. 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.

A Red Cres­cent of­fi­cial in Syria con­firmed the at­tack, but said no fur­ther in­for­ma­tion was avail­able.

Else­where on Monday, at least 20 civil­ians, in­clud­ing a 1-year-old girl, were killed in fresh airstrikes on rebel-held Aleppo city and the sur­round­ing ar­eas, ac­cord­ing to the Ob­ser­va­tory. And Rus­sia said govern­ment po­si­tions in south­west­ern Aleppo came un­der at­tack from mil­i­tant groups, in­clud­ing a mas­sive bar­rage of rock­ets.

With the week-old cease-fire un­der threat, both Moscow and Washington in­di­cated a de­sire to try and sal­vage the agree­ment that had brought a brief respite to at least some parts of the war-torn coun­try.

In the wake of the Syr­ian mil­i­tary dec­la­ra­tion, U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry ac­knowl­edged that the first stage of the truce — which called for a week of calm and the de­liv­ery of hu­man­i­tar­ian aid to sev­eral be­sieged com­mu­ni­ties — had never re­ally come to fruition. Ear­lier in the day, Kerry told re­porters on the side­lines of the U.N. Gen­eral Assem­bly that the truce was “hold­ing but frag­ile.”

The State Depart­ment said that it was ready to work with Rus­sia to strengthen the terms of the agree­ment and ex­pand de­liv­er­ies of hu­man­i­tar­ian aid. Spokesman John Kirby said Rus­sia, which is re­spon­si­ble for en­sur­ing Syria’s com­pli­ance, should clar­ify the Syr­ian po­si­tion.

A Rus­sian For­eign Min­istry state­ment late Monday night ap­peared to sig­nal that the deal could still be sal­vaged, say­ing that the fail­ure by the rebels in Syria to re­spect the cease-fire threat­ens to thwart the agree­ment.

Mi­grants watch a large fire as it burns in­side the Mo­ria refugee camp on the north­east­ern Greek is­land of Les­bos, late Monday, Sept. 19. 2016. Greek po­lice say a large fire has swept through a big camp for refugees and other mi­grants on the eastern Aegean is­land of Les­bos, forc­ing its evac­u­a­tion. None of the more than 4,000 peo­ple in the Mo­ria camp was re­ported in­jured in Monday's blaze, which da­m­aged tents and pre­fab­ri­cated hous­ing units. Pho­to­graph: AP

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