Russia has tried to claim that a deadly attack on an aid convoy that killed 20 in Syria was not an airstrike – and that the 18 trucks packed with medicine and food somehow caught fire.
The Kremlin’s Defence Ministry says it has studied footage of the wreckage in Aleppo province and could not find ‘signs that any munitions hit the convoy’.
Instead, Igor Konashenkov claimed ‘everything shown on the video is the direct consequence of the cargo catching fire, and this began in a strange way simultaneously with terrorists carrying out a massive offensive in Aleppo.’
It comes as both Russia and the Syrian military denied involvement in the attack on the trucks, which were on their way to deliver crucial humanitarian aid to tens of thousands of civilians in the town of Orum al-Kubra.
The International Committee of the Red Cross says around 20 civilians were killed in the airstrikes. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today described the attack as ‘sickening’ as the fragile ceasefire in Syria lay in tatters.
ICRC said in its statement on Tuesday that the dead include a member of the Syrian Red Crescent.
ICRC president Peter Maurer says the attack was a ‘flagrant violation of international humanitarian law’ and ‘totally unacceptable.’
The statement says the civilians were killed as they were unloading trucks carrying vital humanitarian aid and that much of the aid was destroyed, depriving thousands of much-needed food and medical assistance.
UN officials said at least 18 trucks in the 31-vehicle convoy were destroyed late on Monday.
This morning, a senior US official said: ‘We don’t know at this point whether it was the Russians or the regime. In either case, the Russians have the responsibility certainly to restrain – refrain from taking such action themselves, but they also have the responsibility to keep the regime from doing it.’
‘Let me be clear: if this callous attack is found to be a deliberate targeting of humanitarians, it would amount to a war crime,’ O’Brian said.
The Observatory was unable to confirm if the planes responsible were Syrian or Russian.
The UN and Syrian Arab Red Crescent humanitarian mission had sought to take advantage of the ceasefire, which collapsed on Monday night as shells and bombs rained down on Aleppo city and the surrounding province.
The Observatory said a total of 36 people had died in the violence across the battleground region. An AFP correspondent inside Aleppo city reported almost non-stop bombardment and constant sirens.
Syria’s military announced the end to the truce earlier Monday, accusing rebels of more than 300 violations and failing to ‘commit to a single element’ of the US-Russia deal.
The ceasefire, which came into force on September 12, saw an initial drop in fighting but violence began to escalate late last week and the deal came under severe strain over the weekend.
The attack on the convoy is likely to provoke anger at the UN General Assembly in New York, with the delivery of aid to desperate Syrian civilians in rebel-held areas stressed as a key condition of the deal by Washington.
The US, Russia and other key players are set to gather there on Tuesday for talks aimed at ending the five-year conflict that has killed more than 300,000 people and displaced millions.
‘Our outrage at this attack is enormous,’ the UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, told reporters.
‘The convoy was the outcome of a long process of permission and preparations to assist isolated civilians.’