Aid con­voy at­tacked as Syria cease­fi­fire col­lapses

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Worldwide/supplement -

ALEPPO — A con­voy de­liv­er­ing aid to Syr­i­ans in Aleppo province was hit by a deadly air strike hours af­ter the Syr­ian mil­i­tary de­clared an end to a week­long cease­fire, with an out­raged UN warn­ing it could amount to a war crime.

The UN said at least 18 trucks in the 31-ve­hi­cle con­voy were de­stroyed late on Mon­day en route to de­liver hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance to the hard-to-reach town of Orum al-Kubra.

The Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said 12 Red Cres­cent vol­un­teers and driv­ers had died in the strike while UN aid chief Stephen O’Brien said ini­tial re­ports in­di­cated “many peo­ple” were killed or se­ri­ously wounded.

“Let me be clear: if this cal­lous at­tack is found to be a de­lib­er­ate tar­get­ing of hu­man­i­tar­i­ans, it would amount to a war crime,” O’Brien said.

The Ob­ser­va­tory was un­able to con­firm if the planes re­spon­si­ble were Syr­ian or Rus­sian.

The UN and Syr­ian Arab Red Cres­cent hu­man­i­tar­ian mis­sion had sought to take ad­van­tage of the cease­fire, which col­lapsed on Mon­day night as shells and bombs rained down on Aleppo city and the sur­round­ing province.

The Ob­ser­va­tory said a to­tal of 36 peo­ple had died in the vi­o­lence across the bat­tle­ground re­gion. An AFP cor­re­spon­dent in­side Aleppo city re­ported al­most non-stop bom­bard­ment and con­stant sirens.

Syria’s mil­i­tary an­nounced the end to the truce ear­lier on Mon­day, ac­cus­ing rebels of more than 300 vi­o­la­tions and fail­ing to “com­mit to a sin­gle el­e­ment” of the US-Rus­sia deal.

The cease­fire, which came into force on Septem­ber 12, saw an ini­tial drop in fight­ing but vi­o­lence be­gan to es­ca­late late last week and the deal came un­der se­vere strain over the week­end.

US Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry had warned that the truce could be the “last chance” to save the coun­try.

The at­tack on the con­voy is likely to pro­voke anger at the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly in New York, with the de­liv­ery of aid to des­per­ate Syr­ian civil­ians in re­bel­held ar­eas stressed as a key con­di­tion of the deal by Wash­ing­ton.

The US, Rus­sia and other key play­ers were set to gather there yes­ter­day for talks aimed at end­ing the five-year con­flict that has killed more than 300 000 peo­ple and dis­placed mil­lions.

“Our out­rage at this at­tack is enor­mous,” the UN en­voy for Syria, Staffan de Mis­tura, told re­porters.

“The con­voy was the out­come of a long process of per­mis­sion and prepa­ra­tions to as­sist iso­lated civil­ians.”

The US said it was out­raged at the at­tack and stressed that the des­ti­na­tion of the con­voy was known to the Syr­ian regime and its ally, Rus­sia.

Aid dis­tri­bu­tion to Syr­ian civil­ians caught up in the con­flict had al­ready faced se­vere dif­fi­cul­ties.

The UN held back de­liv­er­ies des­tined for Aleppo city be­cause it was un­able to ob­tain se­cu­rity guar­an­tees.

Jan Ege­land, head of the UN hu­man­i­tar­ian task force for Syria, said the con­voy was bombed de­spite aid agen­cies co­or­di­nat­ing their move­ments with all sides on the ground.

A Syr­ian Arab Red Cres­cent ware­house was also hit, a UN spokesper­son said.

In­side Aleppo, res­i­dents in rebel-held ar­eas hun­kered down af­ter the end of the cease­fire which had brought only tem­po­rary re­lief to the pop­u­la­tion of up to 275 000 peo­ple trapped there.

Sirens wailed as am­bu­lances zipped through the eastern half of the di­vided city, an AFP cor­re­spon­dent re­ported.

The Ob­ser­va­tory said that mil­i­tary planes had car­ried out more than 40 strikes since the Syr­ian army an­nounced the end of the truce.

Chief US diplo­mat Kerry will try to speak to Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov in New York be­fore yes­ter­day’s meet­ing of the In­ter­na­tional Syria Sup­port Group but state­ments from Syr­ian and Rus­sian mil­i­tary of­fi­cials on the ground ap­peared to bury the deal.

“Con­sid­er­ing that the con­di­tions of the cease­fire are not be­ing re­spected by the rebels, we con­sider it point­less for the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment forces to re­spect it uni­lat­er­ally,” said Rus­sian Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Sergei Rud­skoy.

The cease­fire deal had three key com­po­nents: fight­ing between gov­ern­ment and rebel forces across Syria would halt, although strikes on Is­lamic State and other ji­hadists could con­tinue.

Hu­man­i­tar­ian aid would reach des­per­ate civil­ians, par­tic­u­larly in dev­as­tated eastern Aleppo.

And if the cease­fire held, the US was to have set up a joint mil­i­tary cell with Rus­sia to tar­get ji­hadists.

It came un­der mas­sive strain on Satur­day when a US-led coali­tion strike hit a Syr­ian army post near the eastern city of Deir Ez­zor, where gov­ern­ment forces are bat­tling the Is­lamic State ji­hadist group.

Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad on Mon­day blasted the air strikes, which he said showed world pow­ers sup­ported “ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions” like IS.

His ad­viser Buthaina Shaa­ban went fur­ther, telling AFP that Da­m­as­cus be­lieved the raid which killed at least 62 Syr­ian soldiers had been in­ten­tional.

The blood­i­est day for civil­ians was on Sun­day, when a bar­rel bomb at­tack killed 10 in a south­ern rebel-held town and one woman died in the first raids on Aleppo since the truce started. — AFP.

Air strikes de­stroyed 18 lor­ries in a 31-truck aid con­voy des­tined for rebel-held ar­eas of Aleppo Reuters

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