After Slamming U.S. for Syria Airstrike, Russia Silent After Aid Convoy Bombed

By Patrick Goodenough | September 20, 2016 | 4:16am EDT
Truckloads of humanitarian aid waiting to cross into Syria. (Photo: Syrian Arab Red Crescent/UNOCHA)

( – Two days after condemning the U.S. for a coalition airstrike that mistakenly hit Syrian troops rather than ISIS terrorists, Russia was mum Monday after an airstrike – probably by its Assad regime ally – struck an aid convoy in what a top U.N. humanitarian official said could be a war crime.

At least 12 aid workers and drivers were killed when the convoy operated by the U.N. and Syrian Red Crescent was attacked, after waiting for days for government permission to move from the Turkey border to Aleppo city.

The U.N. said 18 of 31 trucks in the convoy were hit in the airstrike, which occurred just hours after the Assad regime unilaterally declared a shot-lived ceasefire over.

Russian state media were either silent on the deadly attack on the convoy, or simply reported on a statement from U.N. officials about the incident, while making no reference to who may have been responsible.

Likewise, 12 hours after the attack on the aid convoy, neither Syrian state television nor the state news agency SANA had reported on the incident.

By contrast, Russian and Syrian defense and government officials and media outlets continue to discuss and condemn a weekend airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition which the Pentagon said targeted ISIS jihadists but hit Syrian troops in error. Syrian diplomats charge that the attack, which reportedly killed 62 soldiers, was “pre-planned” and “deliberate,” designed to benefit ISIS. (President Bashar al-Assad himself made the accusation, in a meeting with a visiting Iranian deputy foreign minister.)

Russia on Saturday night called an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting to discuss that airstrike, leading to an angry war of words between U.S. and Russian diplomats.

Two days later it was the turn of the U.S. government to voice outrage after the aid convoy was struck.

“The destination of this convoy was known to the Syrian regime and the Russian federation and yet these aid workers were killed in their attempt to provide relief to the Syrian people,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

Speaking in New York on the sidelines of U.N. meetings, Secretary of State John Kerry said that “the Russians need to control Assad, who evidently is indiscriminately bombing, including of humanitarian convoys.”

U.N. humanitarian relief coordinator Stephen O’Brien said the convoy that was struck had planned to take aid to almost 80,000 besieged Syrians.

He said notification about its journey “had been provided to all parties to the conflict and the convoy was clearly marked as humanitarian. There can be no explanation or excuse, no reason or rationale for waging war on brave and selfless humanitarian workers trying to reach their fellow citizens in desperate need of assistance.”

“Let me be clear,” O’Brien said. “If this callous attack is found to be a deliberate targeting of humanitarians, it would amount to a war crime.”

He called for an immediate and independent investigation, warning the perpetrators that “they will one day be held accountable for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.”

According to O’Brien, a Red Crescent warehouse and health clinic were also reported to have been hit and damaged during the attack.

Earlier on Monday, the Syrian army’s general command announced an end to a ceasefire negotiated earlier between the U.S. and Russia and which had formally come into effect a week earlier.

It accused “armed terrorist groups” of ignoring the ceasefire and continuing attacks. The army, meanwhile, had tried to implement the truce “and exercised the highest degree of self-restraint,” responding only when forced to do so, it said.

The Assad regime uses the “terrorist” term both for ISIS and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, and for other rebel groups fighting in Syria, including those backed by Western and Arab nations.

The Obama administration said it was not for the Syrian army to call off the ceasefire, which had been negotiated between Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

“While we have seen comments attributed to the Syrian military, our arrangement is with Russia, which is responsible for the Syrian regime’s compliance,” said Kirby. “So we expect Russia to clarify their position.”

A senior administration official, speaking on background, declined to speculate on a motive for the attack on the humanitarian convoy – including specifically whether it was intended as retaliation for the weekend coalition airstrike that mistakenly hit Syrian troops.

But the official rejected any attempt to equate the two: The coalition airstrike that hit Syrian forces in error had been “a highly aberrational occurrence” while the attack on the aid convoy was “fundamentally consistent with a pattern and a practice [by the Syrian regime] that we have seen going back for a number of months and even years.”

“So I don’t put these incidents in remotely the same category,” the official asserted.

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