UN Suspends Aid in Syria as Russia Pessimistic on Truce Renewal

  • Russian Defense Ministry denies jets struck aid convoy
  • Syrian military announced end to truce Monday, blamed rebels

A damaged truck in the town of Orum al-Kubra near Aleppo, on Sept. 20, 2016.

Photographer: Omar Haj Kadour/AFP via Getty Images

The United Nations suspended all aid deliveries in Syria after the bombardment of a humanitarian convoy killed about 20 people, as Russia denied involvement and expressed pessimism that a collapsed week-old cease-fire can be restored.

Convoys around Syria are being halted as an “immediate security measure,” Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency, told reporters in Geneva in televised comments.

The UN said 18 aid trucks were attacked as food and medical supplies were unloaded at a warehouse outside the besieged northern city of Aleppo on Monday. “If this callous attack is found to be a deliberate targeting of humanitarians, it would amount to a war crime,” said Stephen O’Brien, the UN’s top humanitarian official.

There were “no air strikes on a humanitarian convoy of the UN on the southwestern outskirts of Aleppo by Russian or Syrian aviation,” Igor Konashenkov, spokesman for the Defense Ministry in Moscow, said Tuesday, according to the Interfax news service. Video evidence suggested that a fire broke out on the convoy’s load, he said.

The crisis dealt a further blow to the latest effort by Russia and the U.S. to ease the 5 1/2-year conflict in Syria with a cease-fire agreement negotiated in Geneva between Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Secretary of State John Kerry on Sept. 9. The war has killed at least 280,000 people and caused millions to flee, provoking the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II and helping to create a haven for Islamic State to conduct a global terror campaign.

‘Extremely Concerned’

Syrian state television on Monday cited the country’s military as saying the cease-fire had ended. This came amid reports that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces launched fresh attacks on Aleppo as well as targeting the aid convoy west of the city after scores of his troops died in a U.S.-led bombing at the weekend.

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.”

‘Control Assad’

Kerry said Monday that the onus was on Moscow to rein in Assad’s forces. The cease-fire went into force last week and was supposed to pave the way for the U.S. and Russia to cooperate on targeting Islamic extremist groups in the Middle Eastern country.

“We need to see what the Russians say, but the point, the important thing is the Russians need to control Assad who evidently is indiscriminately bombing, including of humanitarian convoys,” Kerry said in New York before a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Nayef.

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Russia hit back at the U.S., with Peskov accusing it of failing to honor a commitment to separate moderate opposition groups in Syria from terrorists.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based opposition monitoring group, said Syrian or Russian jets had targeted Aleppo and the surrounding region more than 40 times, including by hitting the aid convoy in the town of Urem al-Kubra. The strike killed 21 civilians including a Syrian Red Crescent employee, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which helped organize the delivery.

In total more than 30 people died and dozens were injured in Monday’s attacks, according to SOHR, which monitors the conflict through activists on the ground.

After sporadic violations in recent days, the deal suffered a grievous blow over the weekend when U.S.-led coalition planes struck a Syrian army base, killing 62 soldiers and wounding more than 100. Russia then called the agreement “meaningless” because the U.S. had been unable to influence moderate opposition groups in the country.

The U.S. and Russian accord had sought to bring seven days of calm and fresh relief to civilians in Aleppo, where 300,000 civilians are trapped in the rebel-held eastern part of the city. After that, the goal was for Moscow and Washington to begin an unprecedented joint effort to coordinate air strikes on Islamic extremist groups in Syria while grounding Assad’s air force in those areas.

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