UN resumes aid convoys to Syria days after deadly airstrikes

The United Nations appealed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebel groups on Thursday to allow aid convoys to enter eastern Aleppo as UN relief operations in Syria resumed after a 48-hour suspension due to a deadly attack.

Top U.S. military officer blames Russia for Monday's convoy attack

A damaged UNHCR truck is pictured after the airstrike. The U.S. is blaming Russia for the attack. (Ammar Abdullah/Reuters)

The United Nations appealed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebel groups on Thursday to allow aid convoys to enter eastern Aleppo as UN relief operations in Syria resumed after a 48-hour suspension due to a deadly attack.

Residents say a 23-truck convoy has delivered humanitarian assistance to a Damascus suburb of Moadamiyeh.

Local media activist Wassim al-Ahmad says the trucks carried medical and food supplies from various UN agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent, which supervised the delivery, says the convoy covers the needs of 7,000 families, and another convoy to support 5,000 more will soon follow.

The government says 35,000 people live in the suburb.

The UN suspended all convoys to besieged and hard-to-reach areas Tuesday after a suspected Russian or government air strike razed a Red Crescent warehouse and convoy in opposition territory in the country's north.

The UN hopes to send others to besieged areas in Idlib and near the Lebanese border in coming days.

The world body suspended land deliveries after a 31-truck convoy was attacked on Monday night at Urem al-Kubra in western Aleppo. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent says a staff member and around 20 civilians were killed and a warehouse destroyed.

UN humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland told reporters that the food will expire Monday, urging the country to let the truck in as soon as possible.

A man carries an injured child after airstrikes on the rebel held al-Qaterji neighbourhood of Aleppo on Wednesday. (Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters)

"So please, President Assad, do your bit to enable us get to eastern Aleppo and also the other besieged areas. We also have to get assurances in the east Aleppo case from the armed opposition groups to enter," he said of the divided northern city.

U.S. blames Russia for airstrike

The top U.S. military officer told a Senate committee on Thursday that he believes Russia bombed the aid convoy on Monday, calling it an "unacceptable atrocity."

The statement from U.S. Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was the first time a senior U.S. official publicly pointed the finger at Moscow. Russia's defense ministry quickly disputed Dunford's comments.

Under questioning from the Senate Armed Services Committee, Dunford revealed for the first time that both Russian and Syrian aircraft were in the area at the time of the strike. And when pressed by senators for his own conclusion, he said he believed Russia was the one that launched the airstrike.

U.S. officials initially said the aircraft that dropped the bombs were Russian Su-24 fighter jets, but they weren't sure if the aircraft were piloted by Russian or Syrian government troops. The Obama administration has blamed Russia either way, because of Moscow's continued influence over the Syrian government in the war.

When first asked if Russia bombed the aid convoy, Dunford said it wasn't certain which aircraft dropped the bombs, killing 20 civilians. Under further questioning from Sen. Lindsey Graham on whether it was Russia, Dunford answered, "that hasn't been concluded, but my judgment would be that they did." He was later asked again if it was Russia, and he answered yes.

Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for Russia's defense ministry, called Dunford's testimony his "personal opinion" and contended that the U.S. fears having to acknowledge responsibility for the attack.

At the White House, spokesman Josh Earnest heaped on further criticism for what it called Moscow's failure to ensure Syria lived up to its commitments under the cease-fire. "That creaking sound you hear is Russia's international credibility taking an additional hit," Earnest said.

'Devastating, sustained attack'

Syrian airstrikes hit humanitarian convoy

6 years ago
Duration 1:06
At least 20 dead, several injured
"The devastating sustained attack at our convoy at Big Urem outside Aleppo this Monday is the worst attack ever sustained on a cross-line, cross-border convoy," Egeland said on Thursday.

The attack left a "tremendous cloud" over the whole system for obtaining authorizations from all warring sides "that is the pre-condition for a lifeline to millions of people", he added.

A man runs with a stretcher in a damaged site after airstrikes in Aleppo Wednesday. (Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters)

Mouadamiya was "a very important town where people have been suffering for very long and where they feel squeezed by all armed actors."

Egeland said the United Nations also hoped to deliver aid to rebel-besieged towns of Foua and Kufreya in Idlib and government-blockaded Madaya and Zabadani near the Lebanese border within days.

"Madaya is a place where people have been starving and where there was a meningitis epidemic. We're loading, we hope to go soon," he said. "We need a re-boot, we need a re-start for security assurances, guarantees for the humanitarian lifeline."​

With files from Reuters