U.N. halts aid convoys to Syria after attack
BEIRUT — Volunteers were still dousing the fires from an overnight attack on an aid convoy that killed 20 civilians as the U.N. announced Tuesday it was suspending overland aid deliveries in Syria, jeopardizing food and medical security for millions of besieged and hard-to-reach civilians.
Witnesses described the Monday attack on a Syrian Arab Red Crescent warehouse and convoy in the rebel-held town of Uram al-Kubra in Aleppo province as prolonged and intense, saying the aerial bombardment continued as rescue workers rushed to pull the wounded from the flaming wreckage and rubble
he convoy was part of a routine interagency dispatch operated by the Syrian Red Crescent, which U.N. officials said was delivering assistance to 78,000 people in Uram al-Kubra, west of Aleppo city.
It was carrying food, medicines, emergency health kits, IV fluids, and other essentials supplied by the U.N. and the World Health Organization.
Local paramedic and media activist Mohammad Rasoul, who was among the first to arrive at the scene, said over 100 tons of food, medicine, and baby formula had gone up in flames. He said 18 of the convoy’s 31 trucks were destroyed.
The attack “erased the convoy from the face of the earth,” Rasoul said.
“I’ve never seen anything like this attack,” he said. “If this had been a military position, it wouldn’t have been targeted with such intensity.”
He said the attack began around 20 minutes after sunset Monday and contin- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the deadly attack on the convoy in Uram al-Kubra, Syria, “sickening.” ued for two hours.
It was not clear who was behind the attack.
Both Syrian and Russian aircraft operate over the province, while the U.S.-led coalition targets the Islamic State group in other parts of the country. Syria’s rebels do not possess an air force.
The U.S. holds the Kremlin responsible for the airstrikes by Russia or Syria that hit the convoy, the White House said.
At the same time the attack took place on Uram al-Kubra, presumed Syrian or Russian jets launched a wave of attacks in and around the nearby city of Aleppo, minutes after Syria’s military announced a weeklong cease-fire had expired.
Russia and Syria both denied they had carried out the convoy bombing. Russia’s Defense Ministry blamed the damage on a cargo fire.
A cargo fire would not explain witness accounts of a two-hour barrage of missiles, rockets and barrel bombs.
Hussein Badawi, head of the town’s Syrian Civil Defense search and rescue group — also known as the White Helmets — said that on the night of the attack he heard the sounds of overhead ballistic missiles, heli- copters and fighter jets.
He and other witnesses reported seeing a reconnaissance aircraft observing the convoy before the attack.
“There were reconnaissance flights before the airstrikes,” Badawi said. “They filmed and combedthearea, and they knew there was a Red Crescent (facility). The target was the Red Crescent, central and direct.”
Russia’s Defense Ministry confirmed Tuesday that a drone had followed the convoy from a warehouse in the government-side of Aleppo to its destination in Uram al-Kubra.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said that 20 civilians were killed in the attack, many of them died as they were unloading the trucks. Syrian activists and paramedics had said earlier that the airstrikes killed 12.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called it a “sickening, savage and apparently deliberate attack,” in his address Tuesday to world leaders at the General Assembly in New York.
“Just when we think it cannot get any worse, the bar of depravity sinks lower,” he said, describing the bombers as “cowards” and those delivering aid as “heroes.”