- Week-old ceasefire in the Syrian civil war is crumbling
- Russian officials deny responsibility for attack on convoy
A humanitarian convoy in Syria was attacked by either Russian or Syrian government aircraft, White House deputy national security director Ben Rhodes said Tuesday.
Twenty people were killed in the attack on Monday, further shaking a days-old cease-fire in the Syrian civil war that was already crumbling. The Kremlin has denied responsibility for the strike.
“All of our information indicates clearly that this was an air strike,” Rhodes said in a briefing for reporters. “That means there only could’ve been two entities responsible: either the Syrian regime or the Russian government.”
Rhodes said the U.S. holds Russia responsible for the "outrageous attack" because it had committed, as part of the cessation of hostilities agreement, to ensure that aid convoys were able to reach the besieged city of Aleppo.
“We need to continue to determine whether or not the cessation of hostilities can continue,” Rhodes said.
Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry in Moscow, said Tuesday that there
were “no air strikes on a humanitarian convoy of the UN on the southwestern outskirts of Aleppo by Russian or Syrian aviation,” according to the Interfax news service. Video evidence suggested that a fire broke out on the convoy’s load, he said.
The United Nations suspended all aid deliveries in Syria after the attack on the convoy of 18 trucks that had brought food and medical supplies to a warehouse outside Aleppo. The U.S.-Russia peace deal was intended to allow the delivery of aid to the northern Syrian town, which had become isolated after being surrounded by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
But prospects for the agreement cratered over the weekend when U.S.-led coalition planes struck a Syrian army base, killing 62 soldiers and wounding more than 100. The U.S. said its pilots believed they were targeting Islamic State fighters, and the Obama administration apologized to the Assad regime. Russian officials also complained the U.S. has not done enough to influence rebel groups operating within Syria.
Under the agreement, fighters within the country were asked to declare a truce and allow the flow of aid to besieged areas like Aleppo. Had the cease-fire held, the Russian and U.S. militaries were prepared to set up a joint operation targeting terror groups in the country, including Islamic State and al Nusra.
Hopes of renewing the truce “are very weak for the moment,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call on Tuesday. “We’re extremely concerned about the situation.”
Still, Rhodes said the U.S. wasn’t yet willing to "walk away from the table" despite the airstrike on the aid convoy that was "completely contrary to and in violation of that agreement." He said regional allies supported continued diplomacy and that the "preferable course" remained to see if the agreement could be implemented. Russia and Syria could demonstrate their seriousness in the aftermath of the attack by grounding their air forces, he said.
"I just don’t want to close the door to the possibility we can get back to the type of agreement that was negotiated," Rhodes said.