Air strike on aid convoy in Aleppo kills 12 Red Crescent volunteers

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Damaged aid trucks are pictured after an airstrike on the rebel held Urm al-Kubra town, western Aleppo city, Syria, on Tuesday. (REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah)
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Civil Defense firefighters and a man put out a fire after an airstrike on the rebel held Urm al-Kubra town, western Aleppo city, Syria, on Tuesday. (REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah)
Updated 20 September 2016

Air strike on aid convoy in Aleppo kills 12 Red Crescent volunteers

ALEPPO, Syria: A convoy delivering aid to Syrians in Aleppo province was hit by a deadly air strike hours after the Syrian military declared an end to a week-long cease-fire, with an outraged UN warning it could amount to a war crime.
The UN said at least 18 trucks in the 31-vehicle convoy were destroyed late Monday en route to deliver humanitarian assistance to the hard-to-reach town of Orum Al-Kubra.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 12 Red Crescent volunteers and drivers had died in the strike while UN aid chief Stephen O’Brien said initial reports indicated “many people” were killed or seriously wounded.
“Let me be clear: if this callous attack is found to be a deliberate targeting of humanitarians, it would amount to a war crime,” O’Brien said.
The Observatory was unable to confirm if the planes responsible were Syrian or Russian.
The UN and Syrian Arab Red Crescent humanitarian mission had sought to take advantage of the cease-fire, which collapsed on Monday night as shells and bombs rained down on Aleppo city and the surrounding province.
The Observatory said a total of 36 people had died in the violence across the battleground region. An AFP correspondent inside Aleppo city reported almost non-stop bombardment and constant sirens.
Syria’s military announced the end to the truce earlier Monday, accusing rebels of more than 300 violations and failing to “commit to a single element” of the US-Russia deal.
The cease-fire, which came into force on September 12, saw an initial drop in fighting but violence began to escalate late last week and the deal came under severe strain over the weekend.
US Secretary of State John Kerry had warned that the truce could be the “last chance” to save the country.

'Enormous outrage'
The attack on the convoy is likely to provoke anger at the UN General Assembly in New York, with the delivery of aid to desperate Syrian civilians in rebel-held areas stressed as a key condition of the deal by Washington.
The US, Russia and other key players are set to gather there on Tuesday for talks aimed at ending the five-year conflict that has killed more than 300,000 people and displaced millions.
“Our outrage at this attack is enormous,” the UN envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, told reporters.
“The convoy was the outcome of a long process of permission and preparations to assist isolated civilians.”
The United States said it was outraged at the attack and stressed that the destination of the convoy was known to the Syrian regime and its ally, Russia.
Aid distribution to Syrian civilians caught up in the conflict had already faced severe difficulties.
The UN held back deliveries destined for Aleppo city because it was unable to obtain security guarantees.
Jan Egeland, head of the UN humanitarian task force for Syria, said the convoy was bombed despite aid agencies coordinating their movements with all sides on the ground.
A Syrian Arab Red Crescent warehouse was also hit, a UN spokesman said.

'Temporary relief'
Inside Aleppo, residents in rebel-held areas hunkered down after the end of the cease-fire which had brought only temporary relief to the population of up to 275,000 people trapped there.
Sirens wailed as ambulances zipped through the eastern half of the divided city, an AFP correspondent reported.
The Observatory said that military planes had carried out more than 40 strikes since the Syrian army announced the end of the truce.
Chief US diplomat Kerry will try to speak to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in New York before Tuesday’s meeting of the International Syria Support Group but statements from Syrian and Russian military officials on the ground appeared to bury the deal.
“Considering that the conditions of the cease-fire are not being respected by the rebels, we consider it pointless for the Syrian government forces to respect it unilaterally,” said Russian Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy.
The cease-fire deal had three key components: fighting between government and rebel forces across Syria would halt, although strikes on Islamic State and other jihadists could continue.
Humanitarian aid would reach desperate civilians, particularly in devastated eastern Aleppo.
And if the cease-fire held, the US was to have set up a joint military cell with Russia to target jihadists.
It came under massive strain on Saturday when a US-led coalition strike hit a Syrian army post near the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, where government forces are battling the Islamic State jihadist group.
Syrian President Bashar Assad on Monday blasted the air strikes, which he said showed world powers supported “terrorist organizations” like IS.
His adviser Buthaina Shaaban went further, telling AFP that Damascus believed the raid which killed at least 62 Syrian soldiers had been intentional.
The bloodiest day for civilians was Sunday, when a barrel bomb attack killed 10 in a southern rebel-held town and one woman died in the first raids on Aleppo since the truce started.


Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

Updated 15 October 2019

Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

  • Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades

ANKARA: As Ankara pressed on with its offensive in northeastern Syria amid international criticism, Washington announced some 1,000 soldiers were withdrawn from the zone.

With the US departure, the attention turns to how the regional actors, especially Turkey and Syria, will operate in their zones of influence in the war-torn country where the possible escape of Daesh fighters from prisons could result in more chaos.

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades. The PKK is listed as a terror group by Turkey, the EU and the US.

But, whether some 50,000 YPG fighters will be integrated into the Syrian Army or will try to maintain their autonomy is still a matter of concern.

Mazloum Abdi, commander-in-chief of the SDF, recently wrote for Foreign Policy that the Kurds are finally ready to partner with Assad and Putin.

Yury Barmin, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council, said: “Damascus and the SDF struck a deal at the Russian base in Hmeymim to let the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) enter the Kurdish-controlled area in the northeast and deploy at the Syrian-Turkish border. The SAA is set to take control over Manbij, Kobane and Qamishli.”

However, Barmin told Arab News that a deal between Damascus and the SDF would greatly contribute to a buffer zone that Turkish President Recep Yayyip Erdogan intends to create in northern Syria, allowing Kurds to take some areas along the border without directly antagonizing Ankara. This policy, Barmin added, would be unacceptable to Moscow.

“There are now lots of moving targets and the goal of the Syrian Army — whether it will take some strategic cities or control the whole border along Turkey — is unclear for now. As Russian President Vladimir Putin is on his official visit to Saudi Arabia, his decision for Syria will be clearer when he returns home,” he said.

HIGHLIGHT

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Barmin also noted that Russia let Erdogan operate the Adana agreement to a certain extent, under which Turkey has the right to conduct cross-border operations.

“But now, Russia would like to show Turkey its own red lines in the region,” he said.

However, Navvar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, said that the Syrian regime is not capable of striking a deal without being backed by Russians, and that Moscow would not want to lose its relationship with Ankara.

“Russians always talk about the Adana agreement. We are now talking about a renewal and reactivation of the agreement with new specifications to allow Turkey to go deeper into Syrian territories. In this way, the Russians will have a bigger chance to allow the Syrian regime and Turkey to communicate. It is something that will open the diplomatic channels,” Saban said.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump tweeted: “Big sanctions on Turkey coming! Do people really think we should go to war with NATO Member Turkey? Never ending wars will end!”

Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said that if the US is completely out of the way, Russia and Turkey will have to either agree or contest each other to take over the US territorial control in northeast Syria. He added that this might be the most crucial race in the coming weeks.

Concerning the diplomatic channels between Damascus and Ankara, Macaron thinks that the channels were and will remain open between Moscow and Ankara since they have common interests beyond Syria.

“If Turkey had no other option, it might have to settle for controlling a few border towns, but this means Erdogan can no longer effectively implement his plan to return Syrian refugees, most notably without funding from the international community. Ankara is more likely to succeed in striking such a deal with Moscow than with Washington,” Macaron told Arab News.

Many experts agree that the Syrian chessboard will be determined predominantly by Russian moves.

“Assad has no say in what will happen next, Russia is the decision maker and there is little the Syrian regime can do unless Iran forcefully intervenes to impact the Russian-Turkish dynamics in the northeast,” Macaron said.