UN suspends aid as Syria truce collapses

Geneva/Beirut, September 20

The United Nations suspended all aid shipments into Syria today after a deadly attack on a convoy carrying humanitarian supplies, as a week-old US-Russian sponsored ceasefire collapsed in renewed violence.

Washington said it was “outraged” by the apparent air strike that hit a 31-truck aid convoy last night. Russia, which is allied to the government of President Bashar al-Assad, denied that either its air force or that of the Syrian armed forces were responsible.

The Syrian army also denied blame. Moscow said only insurgents knew the full whereabouts of the convoy, but this contradicted the UN, which said all parties had been notified and the trucks were clearly marked.

The Syrian Red Crescent said the head of one of its local offices and “around 20 civilians” were killed. The strike on the aid convoy appeared to deliver a death blow to the ceasefire, the latest failed attempt to halt a war, now in its sixth year, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and created the world’s worst refugee crisis.

Syria’s army declared the ceasefire over on Monday, hours before the strike. While the United States initially said it was still hopeful of extending the truce, US officials acknowledged in the wake of the attack that there might no longer be any agreement left to salvage.

That would most likely wreck the last hope of any breakthrough on Syria before the administration of President Barack Obama leaves office in January, meaning his successor will inherit a war that has split the Middle East on sectarian lines and drawn in global powers.

The ceasefire was meant to halt all fighting and allow aid to reach besieged areas, at a time when pro-government forces, with Russian and Iranian military support, are in their strongest positions for years and civilians in many rebel-held are completely cut off from food and medical supplies.

“As an immediate security measure, other convoy movements in Syria have been suspended for the time being pending further assessment of the security situation,” Jens Laercke, a UN humanitarian aid spokesman, told a briefing.

20 civilians killed in aid convoy attack

Geneva: The air raids that hit an aid convoy near Aleppo killed around 20 people, including a Red Crescent staff member, the humanitarian organisation said on Tuesday.

“Around 20 civilians and one SARC (Syrian Arab Red Crescent) staff member were killed as they were unloading trucks carrying vital humanitarian aid,” the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said in a statement.

Monday’s raid on the convoy destroyed at least 18 of 31 vehicles, as well as a Red Crescent warehouse in Orum al-Kubra in Aleppo province. “Much of the aid was destroyed,” IFRC said, stressing that “the attack deprives thousands of civilians of much-needed food and medical assistance.”

Omar Barakat, who headed the SARC’s sub-branch on Orum “succumbed to his injuries and died,” IFRC spokesman Benoit Carpentier told reporters in Geneva.

The UN humanitarian agency today demanded an investigation into Monday’s airstrikes on the convoy, which had been carrying desperately needed aid for some 78,000 people.

“From what we know of yesterday’s attack, there has been a flagrant violation of International Humanitarian Law, which is totally unacceptable,” Peter Maurer, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said in Tuesday’s statement.