Did You Know
Did You Know
Boris Johnson has said there is “strong” evidence that Russian warplanes carried out the airstrike on Monday that destroyed a UN aid convoy in Syria.
The UK foreign secretary made the allegation on Wednesday outside a contentious UN security council meeting on Syria in the wake of the attack on the convoy west of Aleppo city. The US and Russia sparred over responsibility for the bombing, which killed at least 20 people, and blame for the breakdown of a week-long ceasefire.
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, called for the immediate grounding of the Syrian air force to salvage the ceasefire, while his French counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said all Syrian troops should be confined to barracks. Russia, meanwhile, accused rebels of violating the truce.
Foreign ministers have given themselves until Friday to restore the ceasefire but there were no signs on Wednesday of any let-up in the conflict, with reports from Syria of continued aerial bombing of rebel areas. The UN said, however, it would end the suspension of aid convoys that followed Monday’s bombings, and would continue trying to get relief through to besieged populations.
Syria aid convoy attack: ‘the bombardment was continuous’
US defence officials have said there was strong evidence that the airstrikes on the convoy were carried out by Russian planes, but Johnson is the first official to level the allegation publicly.
He told reporters: “It’s too early to say anything about criminality and to make conclusive judgments about responsibility, but put it this way: when you look at what happened to the aid convoy, there are only two possible culprits – only two forces capable of having carried out that strike, flying in that area. They are the Syrians and the Russians, and we have our doubts about the Syrian capability to fly at night. So you are left with a pretty strong conclusion.”
The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, has told his counterparts attending this week’s meeting that Russia had been conducting aerial surveillance of the convoy to the Aleppo countryside.
Western officials say the Syrian air force does not have the technical sophistication to carry out night sorties and certainly not to repeatedly hit the same target in darkness over a sustained period. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said he was “looking at options for vigorously investigating” the convoy bombing, which UN officials have described as a war crime, if carried out deliberately.
Speaking earlier at the security council meeting, Lavrov said Russia would welcome an investigation into the convoy bombing, as long as it was “impartial and thorough.
“Russia has provided all the information it has on the attack on the convoy, including real-time video,” Lavrov said. He urged ministers not to react emotionally, claiming that initial reports had pointed to an artillery attack and only afterward were there reports of strikes from a helicopter or aircraft.
The Russian authorities have offered several different explanations for the destruction of 18 Syrian Red Crescent trucks laden with UN food and medicine on Monday evening at Urem al-Kubra, in a rebel-held rural area of Aleppo governorate. They suggested they could have been attacked by rebels, or that the vehicles could have caught fire on their own without an external cause, and later claimed that the trucks were accompanied by a rebel vehicle with a mortar mounted on it.
As Lavrov was speaking at the security council, the defence ministry in Moscow put out an allegation that a US predator drone was flying over the area when the convoy was hit. The defence minister, Sergey Shoigu, also said Russia was dispatching its flagship aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, to “bolster military capabilities” in the eastern Mediterranean.
In his remarks to the security council, Kerry derided Lavrov’s account of the collapse of the truce and Russian versions of the convoy attack.
“Listening to my colleague from Russia, I felt like I was in a parallel universe,” Kerry said. “The trucks and the food and the medicine just spontaneously combusted. Anybody here believe that? I mean, this is not a joke.
“Now I am saying this and I want to lay out these facts because it underscores why at this moment we just can’t do business as usual. We can’t walk out of this room and say, OK, we’re going to try to continue or we’ll have a ceasefire that everybody knows can’t work.
“Are you supposed to sit there and have happy talk in Geneva under those circumstances when you’ve signed up to a ceasefire and you don’t adhere to it?” Kerry asked.
A western official likened the succession of Moscow’s different descriptions of the convoy bombing to the various Russian accounts of the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 by a ground to air missile over Ukraine in 2014. “It’s the same thing – throwing out chaff and hoping some of it works,” the official said.
The foreign ministers in the International Syria Support Group have said they would convene again on Friday in an effort to salvage the truce. Kerry said there had to be action before that, and that the only way for faith in the ceasefire to be restored was for all Syrian planes to be stopped from flying over combat zones where humanitarian aid was delivered.
“So I believe that to restore credibility to the process, we must move forward to try to immediately ground all aircraft flying in those key areas in order to de-escalate the situation and give a chance for humanitarian assistance to flow unimpeded,” Kerry said. “And if that happens, there is a chance of giving credibility back to this process.”
Ayrault, the French foreign minister, called for all Syrian forces to be restricted to barracks and an international ceasefire monitoring system to be put in place, while a UN security council resolution is passed condemning and punishing Syrian government and Islamic State use of chemical weapons.