ALEPPO – The Syrian army and Russia have denied their forces were behind an attack on an aid convoy Monday night near Aleppo, a strike that prompted the United Nations to halt its aid operations in Syria.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, and it is unclear whether an airstrike hit the convoy or if it was shelled.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that aid workers had been killed in an “aerial bombardment”.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said that around 20 civilians were killed as well as the director of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent’s Urum al-Kubra branch, Omar Barakat.
Syria Civil Defence, a volunteer emergency medical service, posted video of the attack’s aftermath on social media showing a warehouse ablaze and claiming that helicopters had dropped four barrel bombs on the site, blaming the Syrian regime.
Barrel bombs are commonly used by the regime, while rebel and militant groups are not known to have the capacity for air power.
CNN cannot confirm the authenticity of the video or who was responsible for the attack.
“There is no truth to reports circulated by some media outlets that [the] Syrian army targeted the humanitarian aid convoy in rural Aleppo [governorate],” the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported Tuesday, quoting a military source.
Moscow also said that Russia and Syria did not carry out airstrikes against the convoy, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said on Facebook.
The ministry said it had “closely studied” video from the apparent scene of the attack taken by “so-called activists” and said it saw no evidence an ammunition strike hit the aid convoy.
Russia also said there was no sign of ammunition being used against the convoy in the Syria Civil Defence video, Russian state media Tass reported.
The convoy was hit in the area of Urum al-Kubra, west of Aleppo, where a warehouse belonging to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent was struck, the United Nations and aid agencies said. Rebels reportedly hold the area.
“From what we know of yesterday’s attack, there has been a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law, which is totally unacceptable,” ICRC President Peter Maurer said in a statement.
“Failing to respect and protect humanitarian workers and structures might have serious repercussions on ongoing humanitarian operations in the country, hence depriving millions of people from aid essential to their survival.”
Of the convoy’s 31 trucks, 18 were hit in the attack, the United Nations said.
Getting aid to areas cut off by fighting has been a growing concern for humanitarian agencies –– with trucks destined for eastern Aleppo, where an estimated 250,000 civilians have been short of food, medicine and water. The area was essentially cut off in July when the Syrian government launched a siege and encircled the rebel-held area.
The World Health Organization said that nine tons of “life-saving items” were aboard the trucks that could provide 58,000 medical treatments.
Here’s what was included:
• Emergency health kits
• Trauma kits
• Burns kits
• IV fluids
• Medicine for noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular and hypertension
• Common medicine, including antibiotics, pain killers and vitamins.
The World Food Programme said it had enough flour on the convoy to feed 78,000 people for a month. Both organizations said they are not yet aware of what was destroyed. The convoy was also carrying winter clothes and blankets.
Monday night’s attack came just hours after Syrian authorities declared an end to a fragile ceasefire in the war-torn country. The ceasefire had been called specifically to allow aid into some of the most desperate parts of Syria.
While some aid was delivered, agencies were severely hampered in the initial days of the ceasefire, unable to cross the border into Syria as they lacked permits from the government, UN officials said last week.
At least 32 people were killed in separate attacks Monday in Aleppo and its western suburbs, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The United States and Russia have been essentially on opposing sides of the conflict but had recently agreed to the ceasefire and some cooperation.
But the two powers were quick to accuse each other of violating the ceasefire, and Moscow has long opposed the US position of supporting and arming what it calls moderate rebels to fight ISIS.
The US State Department also blamed Moscow and the Syrian regime for hampering the delivery of aid.
“For more than a week, we have urged Moscow to fulfill the commitments it made in Geneva to facilitate the unimpeded flow of humanitarian aid to the Syrian people,” the department said in a statement.
“And for more than a week, the Syrian regime repeatedly denied entry to these UN convoys, preventing them from delivering urgent food, water and medical supplies to desperate Syrian citizens.”
The Kremlin said Tuesday there was little hope for the ceasefire’s renewal, state television Russia 24 reported.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov criticized the United States for failing to “separate rebels from so-called moderate opposition”.