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21 killed in strikes on Syrian aid convoy

AAP logoAAP 20/09/2016

The UN has suspended all humanitarian convoys in Syria after 21 people were killed when aid trucks were bombed in northern Aleppo province, in an act the United Nations says could amount to a "war crime."

The US, which expressed outrage over the attack, charged that either a Russian or a Syrian plane hit the aid convoy late Monday and placed most of the blame on Moscow, the main backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Activists said there was no let up in air strikes on rebel-held zones, despite the convoy attack, with dozens of fresh strikes, including barrel bombs, hitting Aleppo and other areas.

The UN will need to reassess the security situation in the wake of the attack, spokesman Jens Laerke said in Geneva. The convoy bombing came just hours after the Syrian army declared an end to a week-long truce, brokered by the United States and Russia.

The 18 trucks that were hit were part of a 31-vehicle convoy that was unloading urgently needed food and medical supplies for tens of thousands of people at a warehouse of the Syrian Red Crescent (SARC), trying to take advantage of the truce.

"The destination of this convoy was known to the Syrian regime and the Russian Federation and yet these aid workers were killed in their attempt to provide relief to the Syrian people," US State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

The UN also said the parties to the conflict were informed about the delivery. A joint statement by Red Cross-linked aid groups said 20 civilians and one Red Crescent staff member were killed and most of the aid in the convoy was destroyed.

"From what we know of (Monday's) attack, there has been a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law, which is totally unacceptable," says Peter Maurer, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The global Red Cross movement said it was in mourning and called for the protection of aid workers.

"If this callous attack is found to be a deliberate targeting of humanitarians, it would amount to a war crime," warned Stephen O'Brien, the UN's top humanitarian official.

David Swanson, a spokesman for the UN in southern Turkey, said that as a result of the collapse of the ceasefire and the attack, people in need would not receive aid. An estimated 13.5 million people, including six million children, need assistance.

"The aid convoy that we had planned under the cessation of hostilities had to be put on hold," Swanson said. "We are devastated by what has transpired."

Airstrikes have been pounding Aleppo and other areas of Syria since the ceasefire was ended on Monday. Fresh fighting also took place between ground forces in the north of the country, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The rebel-held east of Aleppo city, with hundreds of thousands of residents, has been cut off from aid deliveries since July despite the ceasefire, making the situation at hospitals treating the wounded more complicated due to shortages.

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