UN suspends Syria aid convoys after deadly strike

Aleppo, Sep 20 (AFP) The United Nations suspended allhumanitarian convoys in Syria today following a deadly airstrike on aid trucks that killed 20 people, as fightingintensified after the regime declared an end to a week-longtruce. Both Syria and Russia denied they were behind the raid onthe convoy near northern city Aleppo, which the Red Cross saidkilled "around 20 civilians" including an employee of theSyrian Red Crescent. Air raids and shelling meanwhile pounded key battlefrontsacross the country — dimming hopes that the fraught ceasefirebrokered by Moscow and Washington could be revived. Key players including the United States and Russia weremeeting in New York today in an effort to salvage the peaceprocess, which US Secretary of State John Kerry had warnedcould be the "last chance" to end Syria’s civil war. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov opened ameeting of the 23-nation International Syria Support Group(ISSG) in New York, where world leaders have gathered for theUN General Assembly. UN chief Ban Ki-moon opened the assembly debate with acall to end the fighting in Syria. "I appeal to all those with influence to end the fightingand get talks started," Ban said. Yesterday’s strike on the aid convoy provoked outragefrom UN officials, with aid chief Stephen O’Brien warning thatif deliberate "it would amount to a war crime". The International Federation of Red Cross and RedCrescent Societies said last night’s raid destroyed at least18 of 31 vehicles, as well as a Red Crescent warehouse in Orumal-Kubra in Syria’s Aleppo province. "Much of the aid was destroyed," the IFRC said in astatement, stressing that "the attack deprives thousands ofcivilians of much-needed food and medical assistance." Omar Barakat, who headed the local Red Crescent branch,was wounded in the strike and later died, IFRC spokesmanBenoit Carpentier told reporters in Geneva. UN humanitarian agency OCHA said that the movements ofall aid convoys in Syria had been suspended as an "immediatesecurity measure" after the raid. The attack marked a "very, very dark day forhumanitarians in Syria and indeed across the world," OCHAspokesman Jens Laerke said, adding that it was "paramount thatwe are able to establish the facts through an independentinvestigation." A Syrian military source denied any regime involvement,telling state media: "There is no truth to media reports thatthe Syrian army targeted a convoy of humanitarian aid inAleppo province." The Russian defence ministry also said that both itsforces and the Syrian air force "did not conduct any strikesagainst the UN aid convoy." The strike came just a few hours after the Syrian armyannounced the end of the truce last night, accusing rebels offailing to "commit to a single element" of the US-Russia deal.(AFP)SAI

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