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