Air strikes kill medics in Syria as US and Russia fight their own battle over blame

Kerry and Lavrov snipe at each other as medics are killed while helping victims of an earlier air strike and UN says it is ready to resume aid deliveries.
Syrian men remove a baby from the rubble of a destroyed building following a reported air strike in the Qatarji neighbourhood of the northern city of Aleppo on September 21, 2016. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said dozens of raids hit the city's east overnight, as regime troops advanced on rebels in Aleppo's southwestern outskirts.  Ameer Alhalbi / AFP
Syrian men remove a baby from the rubble of a destroyed building following a reported air strike in the Qatarji neighbourhood of the northern city of Aleppo on September 21, 2016. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said dozens of raids hit the city's east overnight, as regime troops advanced on rebels in Aleppo's southwestern outskirts. Ameer Alhalbi / AFP

BEIRUT // Four medical staff were killed and a nurse critically wounded in an air raid which hit two ambulances in a village near Syria’s second city Aleppo.

The Union of Syrian Medical Relief Organisations (UOSSM) said the strike late on Tuesday in Khan Tuman, a village south of Aleppo city, came as workers evacuated victims from a previous strike.

Khan Tuman is near Orum Al-Kubrah, the town where an attack on aid lorries and a warehouse killed around 20 civilians on Monday.

“Today, UOSSM lost four of its members and the life of one nurse is hanging by a thread,” said Dr Ziad Alissa, the head of UOSSM’s branch in France. “Deliberately targeting humanitarian workers and medical professionals is a clear violation of international humanitarian law. We appeal to the international community to act swiftly to put a stop to these atrocities. Too many lives have been lost.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group based in Britain, said the first raid killed nine medical staff affiliated with the Army of Conquest rebel alliance.

The attacks bear out the World health Organisation’s ranking of Syria as the most dangerous country in the world for health professionals. There were 135 hits on clinics and hospitals last year. The UOSSM, which was founded by Syrian expatriates but has now gone international, said more than 700 of its medical personnel have been killed in the Syrian war.

The Syrian Observatory said at least 11 civilians, including three women and three children, were killed during air raids on Wednesday on rebel-held districts of Aleppo, with the death toll likely to rise., while 12 civilians, including two children died in eight air raids on Idlib.

The other Syrian war — between Russia and America — also raged on at the United Nations general assembly in New York with each blaming the other for the attack on the humanitarian aid convoy. and each accusing the other of violating the ceasefire they had brokered together.

The Russian military said an American drone was flying over the area when the aid convoy was attacked. Defence Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said the Predator drone, which took off from the Incirlik base in Turkey, flew into the area before the convoy came under fire and left about 30 minutes afterwards.

On the other hand, the US said that two Russian Su-24 aircraft were flying over the area at the moment of the attack. The Russians insist say neither they nor the Syrian military — Russia’s ally — was anywhere near the aid convoy.

The attack drew international condemnation and prompted the suspension of aid shipments in Syria. But On Wednesday the UN said it was getting ready to resume aid deliveries to the six million people living under siege or in hard-to-reach areas.

Elizabeth Hoff, World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Syria, said it was preparing medical supplies for delivery to a Damascus suburb, subject to the normal security risk assessments. “We are definitely preparing health items to go to Moadamiya as soon as possible. The convoy is being loaded today and scheduled for tomorrow,” she said.

American secretary of state John Kerry has demanded the grounding of all aircraft over the key routes used by the humanitarian convoys but even would offer no guarantee of security as all sides acknowledge that the ceasefire that began nine days was never total, always shaky and has now all but collapsed.

It should have been the centrepiece of discussions in the UN general assembly’s public session. Instead, world powers were left to rue the possibility that the conflict was entering an even darker phase.

Washington, Moscow and other nations in the security council all sought to revive the US-Russian ceasefire deal, but seemed stuck on fundamental differences old and new: Who bears ultimate responsibility for the war and whose actions over the last days scuttled perhaps the best opportunity for peace?

“Supposedly we all want the same goal. I’ve heard that again and again,” a clearly angry John Kerry told the council. “But we are proving woefully inadequate in ... making that happen.”

He outlined a litany of US. complaints against the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad’ and his chief backer, Russia. He recited Moscow’s changing narrative over a deadly attack this week on an aid convoy that has included everything from claims of a justifiable counterterror strike to vehicles spontaneously combusting.

“This is not a joke,” Kerry said, a barbed reference to the use of “word games” to dodge responsibility over questions of “war and peace, life and death.”

Mr Kerry’s suggestion of grounding aircraft over aid routes was one way to revive hopes, but it was far from clear that Syria or Russia would agree.

Earlier, his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov had fired a few verbal salvos of his own, underscoring the breakdown in trust in the 12 days since he and Mr Kerry had clinched a ceasefire agreement and a potential US-Russian military partnership against the Islamic State and al-Qaida.

“The key priority is to separate the opposition forces from the terrorists,” said Mr Lavrov. That was America’s responsibility, not president Assad’s, he added, pointedly.

He had several possible explanations for the track on the Syrian Red Crescent aid convoy, which killed 20 civilians but lay ceasefire violations squarely at the door of rebel forces backed by the US.

And he declared Syria’s conflict, like those in Iraq, Libya and other unstable nations, were the “direct consequence” of foreign — by which he clearly meant American — military interventions in the region.

Mr Kerry’s response was to say Mr lavrov sounded as if he were talking about a “parallel universe.”

The two diplomats also met with more than a dozen Arab and European foreign ministers belonging to the International Syria Support Group, hoping to hold onto what might be salvageable from a week of relative calm in Syria.

But no one spoke of any progress, beyond a decision to hold follow-up discussions later this week.

Even the UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura conceded to the security council that his plans for a multi-step, gradual peace process now seemed almost implausible. “I know, it looks like a dream,” he said.

* agencies

Published: September 21, 2016 04:00 AM

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