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UN suspends all convoys in Syria after attack on aid trucks

By on September 20, 2016

BEIRUT  The U.N. humanitarian aid agency suspended all convoys in Syria on Tuesday following deadly airstrikes on aid trucks the previous night that activists said killed at least 12 people, mostly truck drivers and Red Crescent workers.

The attack plunged Syria’s U.S.-Russia-brokered cease-fire further into doubt. The Syrian military, just hours earlier, had declared the week-long truce 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 late on Monday, 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 the province, while the U.S.-led coalition targets the Islamic State group in other parts of the country.

Damaged buildings and rubble line a street in Homs, Syria. (AP PHOTO)

Damaged buildings and rubble line a street in Homs, Syria. (AP PHOTO)

In Geneva, spokesman Jens Laerke of OCHA said on Tuesday that further aid delivery would hold pending a review of the security situation in Syria in the aftermath of the airstrikes. Laerke called it “a very, very dark day… for humanitarians across the world.”

But a member of the Syrian Civil Defense – a group of volunteer first responders also known as the White Helmets – criticized the U.N. humanitarian aid agency for suspending the convoys.

Ibrahim Alhaj told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Syrian civilians will pay the price for the decision – and that the U.N. should have condemned the attacks on the convoy rather than suspending aid.

Laerke, the U.N. aid coordinator, said the Syria government had granted needed authorizations in recent days to allow for aid convoys to proceed inside Syria. Humanitarian U.N. aid deliveries had stalled in recent weeks amid continued fighting, and the truce had not paved the way for expanded convoys as initially expected.

Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the civil war, and Aleppo-based activist Bahaa al-Halaby both said the attack killed 12 people.

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.

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 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.

When asked who was behind the airstrikes, Abdurrahman said Syrian President Bashar Assad’s “regime does not have the capabilities to carry out such airstrikes within two hours.”

Apart from the 12 killed in the convoy attack, 22 civilians died in attacks Monday across the province, according to the Observatory and Aleppo 24 News.

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