UN halts relief efforts in Syria after destruction of aid column

Following the annihilation of a humanitarian convoy destined for one of the hardest-hit areas in Syria, the United Nations (UN) made public its intent on Tuesday to suspend all relief missions in Syria.

The destruction of a relief caravan intended to reach Uram al-Kubra north of Aleppo on Monday killed 12 aid workers and claimed the life of the local director of the Syrian Red Crescent.

The UN’s announcement bringing to an end relief operations comes amid U.S. accusations of Russian culpability in the aid column’s destruction and the Kremlin deflecting responsibility for wrongdoing.  Moscow countered such accusations, saying only Syrian opposition groups were informed of the aid convoy’s route and Russian officials were examining media reports related to the incident.

While Russia and the U.S. traded accusations, Stephen O’Brien, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, told reporters the convoy’s course had been provided to all warring parties and the column was clearly marked.  O’Brien added if the column’s destruction was demonstrated to be deliberate, the attack could amount to a war crime.

The International Commission of the Red Cross revealed four aid missions to besieged Syrian towns had been cancelled.

Monday’s attack follows Saturday’s incident in which American-led coalition aircraft bombed Syrian army positions, killing 62 Syrian troops.  Responding to the bombing, the Kremlin accused the U.S. of assisting the Islamic State.  Similarly, Damascus lashed out at Washington and demanded the UN condemn America and all participants in Saturday’s raid; Damascus also declared the truce brokered by representatives of the Russian Federation and the U.S. “over.”

On Tuesday, Russian and U.S. officials met in New York in an attempt to salvage the unraveling ceasefire.  Secretary of State John Kerry expressed hopes the deal would survive the attack on Syrian troops and the aid convoy, but met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov against the backdrop of accusations from Washington that Russia was insufficiently influencing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters there was little hope of renewing the ceasefire unless “terrorists” ceased their attacks.

“The situation in Syria is a source of great concern.  Unfortunately, we can state . . . that our American colleagues have failed to separate terrorists from the so-called moderate opposition,” Pskov told reporters on a conference call.

Offering an equally pessimistic view and blaming both Assad and his Russian patrons, Aleppo city council president Brita Haji Hasan said the cessation of hostilities negotiated last week was “born dead.”

“It was never committed to by Russian forces or Assad’s regime.  And this is not the first time a ceasefire has been attempted, only to fail,” Haji Hasan said.


[The Telegraph] [Photo courtesy Daily Star]