Russia: Destroyed Aleppo UN aid convoy just 'caught fire'

Russia: Destroyed Aleppo UN aid convoy just 'caught fire'
Russian defence ministry appears to suggest that White Helmet volunteers and the group formerly known as the Nusra Front may have been behind the attack.
3 min read
20 September, 2016
The United States expressed frustration with Russia following Monday's attack [AFP]
An aid convoy destroyed in Syria's Aleppo province was not bombed by regime warplanes, but "caught fire" after an assault by a Syrian rebel group, Russia's defence ministry said on Tuesday.

"No airstrikes on the UN humanitarian convoy in the southwestern outskirt of Aleppo were carried out by the Russian or Syrian aviation," said defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov.

Contradicting reports from various opposition sources and civilians on the ground, Russia says Moscow officials had studied footage of Monday's events and concluded that there were "no signs that any munitions hit the convoy", including an absence of "burst waves" that would be caused by an air-delivered munition.

"Everything shown on the video is the direct consequence that the cargo caught fire and this began in a strange way simultaneously with carrying out a massive offensive of militants in Aleppo," Konashenkov added.

Moscow also implied that the attack on the UN convoy - which killed 12 aid workers and drivers and destroyed at least 18 trucks - was carried out by the militant group formerly known as the Nusra Front.

The defence ministry says that this alleged assault by the al-Qaeda-linked group began "on Aleppo at around 7pm Moscow time [1600GMT]".

Eyewitnesses in Aleppo on Monday night reported hearing jets, missile strikes and artillery shelling just hours after Damascus announced an end to the ceasefire.

The al-Qaeda-linked Nusra group has no airforce.

Other sources on Monday night said that the jet fighters which had bombed the UN aid convoy, which had been stuck outside Aleppo for a week, despite the ceasefire, doubled back and targeted rescue workers arriving on the scene.

But Konashenkov also appeared to implicate Syria's Civil Defence Force rescue volunteers, or 'White Helmets', as they are known, in the alleged Nusra conspiracy behind the attack.

"The answer who was behind this and for what purposes may be provided by the representatives of the White Helmets organisation linked to Jabhat al-Nusra who happened to be as usual 'by accident' in the right time and in the right place with the video cameras," the general added.

The White Helmets have rejected Russia's claims, pointing out that viewers of the attack's video footage, recorded on ordinary mobile phones, "can hear jets and see bombs".

Since the attack on the UN aid trucks on Monday, parties involved in Syria's collapsing ceasefire have strongly in condemnation of the act.

On Monday, the US said it was "outraged" with the attack and expressed deep frustration with Russia over the matter.

The UN itself suspended all humanitarian aid deliveries to Syria pending a review of the security situation.

"Let me be clear: if this callous attack is found to be a deliberate targeting of humanitarians, it would amount to a war crime," UN aid chief Stephen O'Brien said on Monday.