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Aid convoy hit by airstrikes as Syria truce fails; 36 killed

| Monday, Sept. 19, 2016, 9:51 p.m.

A cease-fire that held in Syria for a week collapsed violently Monday with the bombardment of rebel-held eastern Aleppo city and an attack that struck a humanitarian aid convoy.

At least 36 people were killed, including 12 in the aid convoy, according to activists and the Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights. Among the dead were aid workers, the reports said. Dozens were injured.

U.N. spokesman David Swanson said 18 of the 31 trucks taking part in the aid mission were hit. The source and type of attack is under investigation. Aid workers said more information would be clear after daybreak.

Jan Egeland, humanitarian aid coordinator in the office of the U.N. envoy for Syria, told The Associated Press in a text message that the convoy was “bombarded.”

Egeland added, “It is outrageous that it was hit while offloading at warehouses.”

The airstrikes in the city and its vicinity began shortly after nightfall, following a declaration by the Syrian army, loyal to President Bashar Assad, that the cease-fire brokered by the United States and Russia had ended.

Rebels and the government traded blame for the collapse of the deal, each claiming the other had breached the agreement hundreds of times since it went into effect last Monday.

Two senior U.S. officials blamed the convoy attack on an airstrike by Russia or Syria and said it called into question the viability of the truce going forward. The officials, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said Russia must take immediate action to demonstrate its seriousness in applying pressure for Assad's government to comply with the ceasefire.

One of the officials said the attack “had dealt a serious blow to our efforts” and “it is up to the Russians to demonstrate seriousness of purpose.”

Secretary of State John Kerry said he was awaiting information from Russia on the steps going forward, as he had negotiated with Moscow rather than Damascus. He was speaking in New York, where world leaders are gathering for the annual U.N. General Assembly.

“Well, the Syrians didn't make the deal,” Kerry said. “The Russians made the agreement. So we need to see what the Russians say; but the point, the important thing is the Russians need to control Assad, who evidently is indiscriminately bombing, including of humanitarian convoys. So let's wait and see, collect the facts. We need to see where we are, and then we'll make a judgment. But we don't have all the facts at this point.”

Aid agencies, including the Syrian Red Crescent, or SARC, had earlier said they were carrying out deliveries in the Aleppo countryside.

“Unfortunately, we have received a devastating news about one of the SARC structures in rural Aleppo coming under attack,” said Ingy Sedky, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

“The situation on the spot is very chaotic and we are deeply shocked that humanitarian workers and missions have yet again suffered from the brutality of this conflict.”

Rebel-held eastern Aleppo city, with hundreds of thousands of residents, has been cut off from aid deliveries since July, despite the cease-fire, making the situation more difficult.

Ibrahim al-Hajj, a member of the White Helmets, a rescue group operating in rebel held areas, told dpa there had been a large number of airstrikes.

“Our hospitals are lacking essential first-aid supplies. Simple thing(s) like bandages are lacking,” he said by telephone from eastern Aleppo.

The parties to the conflict had forecast the collapse of the cease-fire recently, as tensions mounted.

An airstrike on a Syrian army post in the east of the country on Saturday by the U.S.-led anti-Islamic State coalition killed more than 60 Syrian soldiers, further complicating the cease-fire.

The U.S. and its allies have expressed regret for the incident, with Washington saying Islamic State was the target.

The Syrian army statement said the cease-fire “was a real chance to stop the bloodshed, but the armed terrorist groups flouted this agreement and failed to comply with the application of any provision of its clauses,” alleging 300 violations by rebels.

Mohammed Alloush, a former top negotiator and a member of the Islam Army (Jaish al-Islam) rebel group, blamed the government, claiming “this regime has violated the cease-fire more than 250 times.”

Ahead of the Syrian army announcement, Russian Gen. Sergei Rudskoi accused the rebels of violating the deal, rendering it “meaningless.”

Moscow also expressed anger that Washington failed to separate so-called moderate opposition members from United Nations-designated terrorists, including al-Qaida-linked militants.

Some aid was delivered to both rebel-held areas and government-controlled territories shortly before the army declared the cease-fire over.

Extremists are fighting alongside rebels against Assad because the opposition relies on the strength of hardline groups. Analysts suggest it will be hard to disentangle the factions.

The U.S.-Russian agreement for a cease-fire in Syria stipulated that it was to last for seven days and, if successful, the two countries would consider carrying out joint strikes against targets such as al-Qaida-linked fighters.

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