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  Convoy strike chokes aid to Syria

Convoy strike chokes aid to Syria

Published : Sep 21, 2016, 6:41 am IST
Updated : Sep 21, 2016, 6:41 am IST

Moscow says no evidence of strike, UN suspends shipments after 20 killed.

Moscow says no evidence of strike, UN suspends shipments after 20 killed.

The United Nations suspended all aid shipments into Syria on Tuesday after a deadly attack on a convoy carrying humanitarian supplies while Washington, expressing outrage at the attack, said a week-old ceasefire was not yet dead.

The attack, described by the United Nations, Red Cross, Western countries and rescue workers on the ground as an airstrike, drew condemnation from much of the world.

However, later the United Nations said that the Syrian humanitarian convoy was hit by “attacks” rather than “airstrikes”.

“We are not in a position to determine whether these were in fact airstrikes. We are in a position to say that the convoy was attacked,” UN humanitarian spokesman Jens Laerke said. A statement from the top UN humanitarian officials in Syria and the region had described “airstrikes” but was swiftly amended to read “attacks”, after what Mr Laerke said was probably a drafting error.

Russia and the Syrian government denied that their Air Forces were responsible for destroying a convoy unloading aid. Moscow presented an entirely different explanation, saying it believed the convoy had not been struck from the air at all but had been destroyed by fire, and suggesting that rescue workers who filmed the aftermath were somehow to blame.

The Syrian Red Crescent said the head of one of its local offices and “around 20 civilians” were killed. Other death tolls differed. The incident appeared likely to deliver a mortal blow to the ceasefire, the latest attempt to halt a war now in its sixth year, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and made a mockery of all previous peace efforts.

Still, US secretary of state John Kerry, who personally negotiated the truce during months of intensive diplomacy with Russia despite scepticism from other senior figures in the US administration, told reporters: “The ceasefire is not dead.”

He spoke after emerging alongside Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov from a meeting of foreign ministers of 20 countries, gathered to discuss Syria in New York.

The United Nations peace envoy, Staffan de Mistura, said the ceasefire was in effect until its co-sponsors Moscow and Washington declared it over, and neither had done so at Tuesday’s meeting.

The state department said the ministers agreed at the meeting of the Syria Support Group to continue pursuing the ceasefire under the US-Russian plan. Syria’s Army had declared the initial ceasefire period over on Monday, hours before the attack on the convoy.

US officials acknowledged there might no longer be any agreement left to salvage. If the truce is abandoned, it would most likely wreck the last hope of any breakthrough on Syria before the administration of President Barack Obama leaves office in January.

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. The attack on the convoy of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent destroyed 18 of 31 trucks.

Location: Lebanon, Beirut