Airstrike hits medics in Syria as UN moves to resume aid
BEIRUT (AP) â An airstrike in northern Syria killed four medics responding to an earlier bombing raid, a relief group said Wednesday, as the U.N. announced it would resume aid deliveries suspended after an attack on a convoy two days ago that killed 20 people.
The escalation of violence against humanitarian workers has all but destroyed a cease-fire that took effect on September 12, and has stoked tensions between the truce's architects, the U.S. and Russia, which have traded blame for running it into the ground.
The U.N said convoys to priority areas would be resumed, with deliveries planned as early as Thursday. "Our obligation to civilians on all sides is to go where and when we can with relief," said Jan Egeland, a senior U.N. humanitarian official focused on Syria. "We hope to resume convoys tomorrow and Friday, but still work on security guarantees.
But air raids continued in other parts of Syria, with activists reporting at least 23 civilians killed in the besieged parts of Aleppo city and the nearby rebel-held Idlib province.
The attack that killed the medics took place shortly after they arrived at the scene of an airstrike in the rebel-held town of Khan Touman on Tuesday. As the medics deployed, planes circled around and struck the area again, Dr. Oubaida Al Moufti, vice president of the International Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations, said. Al-Moufti initially said that five medics were killed. The group later said two nurses and two ambulance drivers were killed, while a third nurse remains in critical condition.
Syrian government forces have been accused of carrying out "double tap" attacks throughout the 5-1/2 year war, placing paramedics and rescue workers in peril.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said nine militants, some of them belonging to the Fatah al-Sham Front, an al-Qaida-linked group previously known as the Nusra Front, were also killed in the "double tap" attack.
It was not immediately clear who carried out the strike. Aircraft from Syria, Russia and the U.S.-led coalition are targeting the Fatah al-Sham Front, which along with the Islamic State group was excluded from the cease-fire.
The airstrike on a Syrian Arab Red Crescent convoy Monday night prompted international condemnation over attacks targeting humanitarian facilities and workers. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the convoy strike as a "sickening, savage and apparently deliberate attack." The convoy was carrying U.N. aid.
The U.S. initially said it believed Russian or Syrian government jets were behind the attack on the aid convoy. But a senior U.S. official said Wednesday that Washington has determined with a very high degree of confidence that the attack was carried out by a Russian piloted aircraft.
Moscow denied that Russian or Syrian aircraft were behind the attack, saying there was a fire in the cargo. Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said a U.S. Predator drone was in the area of the convoy attack when it happened.
In New York on Tuesday, Russian and U.S. diplomats insisted that the cease-fire, which went into effect nine days ago, was not dead, despite soaring violence. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his counterpart Sergey Lavrov exchanged blame in a public session on Syria at the U.N. Security Council.
The Syrian military said the truce expired Monday night, shortly before presumed Russian or Syrian government jets launched a sustained aerial attack on Aleppo's opposition-held neighborhoods.
The cease-fire was intended in part to allow humanitarian convoys to reach besieged and hard-to-reach areas throughout Syria. The U.N. estimates that some 6 million Syrians live in such areas.
On Wednesday, Syrian opposition activists said suspected government airstrikes in the northern city of Aleppo and the rebel-held Idlib province killed 23 civilians, including at least five children.
The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists inside Syria, said at least 11 civilians, including three children and three women, were killed Wednesday during air raids on several rebel-held neighborhoods of Aleppo.
Ibrahim Alhaj, a member of the volunteer first responders known as the Syria Civil Defense, said 24 people were killed in the Aleppo strikes.
In nearby Idlib, the Observatory said 12 civilians, including two children, were killed in at least eight air raids.
Elsewhere in Syria, airstrikes on the opposition-run town of Talbiseh, outside of the central city of Homs, killed two civilians and wounded tens of others, according to the activist-run Talbiseh Media Center.
The town is besieged by government forces. The Observatory said government jets subjected the town to heavy bombardment Wednesday morning.
State TV meanwhile said a Syrian warplane crashed after carrying out a combat mission against Islamic State militants northwest of the capital, Damascus. The pilot was rescued, according to an unnamed military official quoted on state TV.
The IS-affiliated news agency Aamaq said the group downed the plane in the eastern Qalamoun mountains after the aircraft carried out four raids. IS shot down a government aircraft on Sunday in the eastern Deir el-Zour province.