Syria calls truce over as U.N. aid con­voy hit

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND NATION & WORLD - By Bassem Mroue and Vladimir Isachenkov

BEIRUT — A United Nations hu­man­i­tar­ian aid con­voy in­side Syria was hit by airstrikes Mon­day, U.N. of­fi­cials said, as the Syr­ian mil­i­tary de­clared that the week­long U.S.-Rus­sian-bro­kered cease-fire had failed.

With the truce ap­par­ently tee­ter­ing, the U.S. brushed off Da­m­as­cus’ as­ser­tions and said it’s pre­pared to ex­tend the agree­ment, while Rus­sia — af­ter blam­ing rebels for vi­o­la­tions — sug­gested it could still be sal­vaged.

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 Aleppo city. Ini­tial es­ti­mates in­di­cate that at least 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 said at least 12 peo­ple 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 As­so­ci­ated Press in a text mes­sage that the con­voy was “bom­barded.”

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

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 in the John Kerry ex­pressed an­noy­ance at Syria’s and Rus­sia’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions. dead of the night. A video of the at­tack showed huge balls of fire as am­bu­lances ar­rived on the scene.

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

Else­where, at least 20 civil­ians, in­clud­ing a 1-yearold girl, were killed in fresh airstrikes on rebel-held Aleppo and 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.

In the wake of the Syr­ian mil­i­tary dec­la­ra­tion of an end to the cease-fire, Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry ex­pressed an­noy­ance at Da­m­as­cus’ and Moscow’s han­dling of it.

“It would be good if they didn’t talk first to the press but if they talked to the peo­ple who are ac­tu­ally ne­go­ti­at­ing this,” he said. “As I said yes­ter­day, (it’s) time to end the grand­stand­ing and time to do the real work of de­liv­er­ing on the hu­man­i­tar­ian goods that are nec­es­sary for ac­cess.”

But Kerry also 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 Mon­day, Kerry told re­porters on the side­lines of the United Nations 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.

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

The cease-fire came into ef­fect on Sept. 12. Un­der terms of the agree­ment, the suc­cess­ful com­ple­tion of seven days of calm and hu­man­i­tar­ian aid de­liv­er­ies would be fol­lowed by an am­bi­tious sec­ond-stage plan to set up a joint U.S.-Rus­sian co­or­di­na­tion cen­ter to plan mil­i­tary strikes against the Is­lamic State and a pow­er­ful alQaida-linked mil­i­tant fac­tion.

But the truce has been be­set by dif­fi­cul­ties and mu­tual ac­cu­sa­tions of vi­o­la­tions.

The cur­rent ten­sions come on the heels of the week­end airstrike by the U.S.-led coali­tion on Syr­ian army po­si­tions near Deir el-Zour. Syria and Rus­sia blasted Wash­ing­ton over the at­tack.

The Satur­day airstrike in­volved Aus­tralian, Bri­tish and Dan­ish war­planes on Syr­ian army po­si­tions.

The U.S. mil­i­tary said it would not in­ten­tion­ally hit Syr­ian troops.

KENA BETANCUR/GETTY-AFP

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