Shared from the 9/20/2016 Philadelphia Inquirer - Philly Edition eEdition

Airstrikes hit U.N. convoy

At least 12 people were reported killed while trucks were off-loading aid. Syria said the cease-fire is over.

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Women walk past destroyed buildings in a government-held neighborhood of the central Syrian city of Homs. LOUAI BESHARA / AFP / Getty Images

BEIRUT — AU.N. humanitarian aid convoy inside Syria was hit by airstrikes Monday, U.N. officials said, as the Syrian military declared that the weeklong U.S.-Russian brokered cease-fire had failed.

With the truce apparently teetering, the United States brushed off Damascus’ assertions and said it was prepared to extend the agreement, while Russia — after blaming rebels for the violations —suggested it could still be salvaged.

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

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 12 were killed in the attack, mostly truck drivers and Red Crescent workers. The Syrian Civil Defense, the volunteer first responder group also known as the White Helmets, confirmed that casualty figure.

Jan Egeland, humanitarian aid coordinator in the office of the U.N. envoy for Syria, told the Associated Press in a text message that the convoy was “bombarded.”

Egeland added: “It is outrageous that it was hit while offloading at warehouses.”

U.N. Humanitarian Chief Stephen O’Brien called on “all parties to the conflict, once again, to take all necessary measures to protect humanitarian actors, civilians, and civilian infrastructure as required by international humanitarian law.”

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

A Red Crescent official in Syria confirmed the attack, but said no further information was available.

Elsewhere at least 20 civilians, including a 1-year-old girl, were killed in fresh airstrikes on rebel-held Aleppo city and the surrounding areas, according to the Observatory. And Russia said government positions in southwestern Aleppo came under attack from militant groups, including a massive barrage of rockets.

With the week old cease-fire in danger of unraveling, both Moscow and Washington have indicated a desire to try and salvage the agreement —which had brought a brief respite to at least some parts the war-torn country.

In the wake of the Syrian military declaration, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged that the first stage of the truce — which called for a week of calm and the delivery of humanitarian aid to several besieged communities —had never really come to fruition. Earlier in the day, Kerry told reporters on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly that the truce was “holding but fragile.”

The State Department said that it was ready to work with Russia to strengthen the terms of the agreement and expand deliveries of humanitarian aid. Spokesman John Kirby said Russia, which is responsible for ensuring Syria’s compliance, should clarify the Syrian position.

A Russian Foreign Ministry statement late Monday night appeared to signal that the deal could still be salvaged, saying that the failure by the rebels in Syria to respect the cease-fire threatens to thwart the agreement.

The cease-fire came into effect on Sept. 12. But from the start, the truce has been beset by mutual accusations of violations.

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