UN halts humanitarian aid to Syria after convoy is attacked

The UN humanitarian aid agency has suspended all convoys in Syria following an overnight attack on aid trucks.

Aid is seen strewn across the floor in the town of Orum al-Kubra on the western outskirts of Aleppo. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Aid is seen strewn across the floor in the town of Orum al-Kubra on the western outskirts of Aleppo. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said the attack killed about 20 civilians, mostly truck drivers and Red Crescent workers.

The attack plunged Syria’s US-Russia-brokered ceasefire further into doubt. The Syrian military earlier declared the week-long truce had failed.

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The United States said it was prepared to extend the truce deal and Russia – after blaming rebels for the violations – suggested it could still be salvaged.

It was not clear who was behind the attack late on Monday, which sent a fireball into the sky over a rural area in western Aleppo province.

Both Syrian and Russian aircraft operate over the province, while the US-led coalition targets the Islamic State group in other parts of the country.

In Geneva, Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said that all aid deliveries had been halted pending a review of the security situation in Syria in the aftermath of the attacks.

Mr Laerke called it “a very, very dark day... for humanitarians across the world”.

A member of the Syrian Civil Defence – a group of volunteer first responders also known as the White Helmets – criticised the UN humanitarian aid agency for suspending the convoys.

Ibrahim Alhaj said that Syrian civilians will pay the price for the decision, and that the UN should have condemned the attacks on the convoy rather than suspending aid.

The ICRC and the Syrian Red Crescent issued a statement yesterday saying 20 civilians had been killed in the convoy attack, many of them struck while offloading aid from the trucks.

Much of that aid had been destroyed, they said. ICRC president Peter Maurer said the attack was a “flagrant violation of international humanitarian law” and “totally unacceptable”.

Syrian activists and paramedics had said earlier that the attacks killed 12 people.

Among the victims was Omar Barakat who headed the Red Crescent in Uram al-Kubra, the town where the attack occurred, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, and Aleppo-based activist Bahaa al-Halaby said.

The White Helmets first responder group posted images of a number of vehicles on fire and a video of the attack showed huge balls of fire in a pitch black area, as ambulances arrive on the scene. The convoy was part of a routine interagency dispatch operated by the Syrian Red Crescent.

UN officials said it was delivering assistance for 78,000 people in the town of Uram al-Kubra, west of the city of Aleppo. Initial estimates indicate that about 18 of the 31 trucks in the convoy were hit, as well as the Red Crescent warehouse in the area.

World Health Organisation spokesman Christian Lindmeier said the convoy was expected to carry medicines, emergency health kits, trauma kits, burn kits and IV fluids.

“All this was supposed to have been on that convoy, but I do not have a breakdown of what got destroyed and what did not get destroyed,” he said.

When asked who was behind the attacks, Rami Abdurrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime “does not have the capabilities to carry out such air strikes within two hours”.

He said the air strikes on Aleppo province, including the ones that hit the convoy, were part of some 40 air raids that lasted about two hours and that “it was mostly Russian warplanes who carried out the air raid”.

Mr al-Halaby said that rebels in Aleppo province also claimed Russian aircraft were behind the attack.