URUM-AL-KUBRA , Syria, Sept. 20 (UPI) — The Russian government on Tuesday denied that its military or that of Syrian President Bashar Assad were responsible for an attack on an aid convoy near Aleppo that killed several humanitarian workers.
The aid convoy was struck as it attempted to deliver relief supplies to the besieged city, which has been a focal point in the battle between Assad’s forces and rebels.
Tuesday, Moscow rejected accusations that Syria, a Russian ally, ordered the attack.
“Russian and Syrian warplanes did not carry out any airstrikes on a UN humanitarian aid convoy in the southwest of Aleppo,” Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement Tuesday. “The aid convoy successfully reached the destination. The Russian side did not monitor the convoy [with drones] after this and its movements were only known by the militants who were in control of the area.”
Monday, the U.N.’s special envoy to Syrian peace, Staffan de Mistura, said Assad’s regime was behind the attack, which killed more than a dozen people — some of them delivery truck drivers. Those sentiments were echoed by U.S. officials, including Secretary of State John F. Kerry.
Russia’s defense ministry, in fact, seemed to suggest that the aid convoy hadn’t been attacked at all.
“All of the video footage demonstrates that the convoy caught fire, which strangely happened almost at exactly at the same time as militants started a large scale offensive on Aleppo,” Konashenkov said.
Several truckloads of supplies, including vast food reserves, had been held up at the Turkish border for days after the cease-fire was implemented Sept. 12. The convoy strike came two days after a Syrian military procession was hit by coalition airstrikes — which contributed to Syria calling off that cease-fire on Monday.
Eighteen trucks in the convoy of 31, sponsored by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and carrying enough wheat, clothing and medical supplies to the besieged city of Aleppo to serve 78,000 people, were destroyed, the United Nations reported. Material was being unloaded at a warehouse in Urum-al-Kubra, a town west of Aleppo reportedly in rebel control, when the attack came Monday night.
The volunteer medical service Syrian Civil Defense said helicopters bombed the warehouse and convoy, blaming the Syrian government.
The United Kingdom-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attacks were conducted by either Syrian or Russian aircraft; Russia is a pro-government ally of Syria in the fight against the Islamic State and an assortment of rebel groups. SOHR added 12 people were killed in the attacks, including Omar Barakat, SARC’s Um-al-Kubra director.
The convoy of trucks was stalled on the Turkish border for a week as necessary transport permits, from all sides in the war, were obtained.
Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, called the attack a “flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.”
The U.S. State Department said it’s not difficult to conclude who ordered the strike on the convoy.
“The destination of this convoy was known to the Syrian regime and the Russian Federation,” department spokesman John Kirby said. “And yet these aid workers were killed in their attempt to provide relief to the Syrian people.”
Experts worried that the collapse of the cease-fire and the attack on the aid convoy might derail the peace process being negotiated by Washington, D.C., and Moscow.
A State Department statement called the attack an “egregious violation” of the ceasefire, adding it would “reassess the future prospects for cooperation” with Russia.
During his farewell address to the U.N. General Assembly Tuesday, Secretary General Ban ki-Moon derided the attack.
“Just when you think it cannot get any worse, the bar of depravity sinks lower,” he said.