US, UN say Syria cease-fire ‘not dead’ after strike on aid convoy – Laura Rozen

20 Sep 2016 – Al Monitor _ NEW YORK — US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura emerged from a grim meeting of International Syria Support Group (ISSG) foreign ministers this morning declaring the Syrian cease-fire was not dead, a day after airstrikes by the Syrian regime or Russia killed 20 civilians and destroyed 18 trucks in a convoy of humanitarian aid being delivered to western Aleppo. US and international officials, however, are expressing growing doubts about whether the US-Russia agreement to try to stabilize Syria is viable, after struggling to make it take hold since it went into effect Sept. 12.

“The ceasefire is not dead. That I can tell you,” de Mistura said Tuesday after the ISSG morning meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York. “It was confirmed by everyone around the table.”

“The ceasefire is in danger … but the only ones who can announce the ceasefire is dead are the two [US and Russian] co-chairs and they have today not done so,” de Mistura said. “They want to give it another chance.”

The ISSG foreign ministers “agreed that despite continued violence, there was still an imperative to pursue a nationwide cessation of hostilities based on the arrangement reached last week in Geneva between the United States and Russia,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a read-out Sept. 20. The group will meet later in the week to discuss next steps, he said.

No, it is not dead,” Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin told the BBC as he followed Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who ignored the question, into the General Assembly meeting Sept. 20.

The United Nations announced Sept. 20 that it was suspending already stalled efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to Syria for three days, to protest the suspected Syrian regime or Russian strikes. UN officials said the attack on clearly marked humanitarian vehicles that had received proper government permits could amount to a war crime.

“I am disgusted and horrified by the news that a United Nations/Syrian Arab Red Crescent convoy was hit [Sept. 19] in Urum al-Kubra (Big Orem), northwest of Aleppo city,” said UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien.

“Let me be clear: If this callous attack is found to be a deliberate targeting of humanitarians, it would amount to a war crime,” O’Brien said, calling for an immediate investigation. “The perpetrators should know that they will one day be held accountable for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.”

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies “are outraged by last night’s horrific attack on a SARC warehouse and an aid convoy in Orem Al Kubra (Big Orem) in rural Aleppo,” the groups said in a Sept. 20 press release. “Around 20 civilians and one SARC staff member were killed as they were unloading trucks carrying vital humanitarian aid. Much of the aid was destroyed.”

“We’re totally devastated by the deaths of so many people, including one of our colleagues, the director of our sub-branch, Omar Barakat,” said SARC President Abdulrahman Attar. “It is totally unacceptable that our staff and volunteers continue to pay such a high price because of the ongoing fighting.”

American officials, many accompanying Kerry and President Barack Obama to meetings in New York, were reeling as they tried to process reports of the rapidly collapsing cease-fire Sept. 19, when news of the strike on the aid convoy came in. They hold Russia responsible, even if the strikes were committed by the Syrian regime, for “what can only be described as an outrageous attack on non-combatants trying to bring relief in a war zone,” one senior US administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told journalists Sept. 19.

Officials were also seeking clarity on whether Russia was still committed to the collapsing US-Russia-Syria peace deal, even as they said they increasingly questioned whether Russia was capable of delivering on its end or had lost control.

“Look, this was a difficult and trying day in Syria that I think raises very serious questions about whether the Russians can deliver their end of the arrangement that we’ve been negotiating with them and trying to implement,” the senior US administration official said. “What happened [Sept. 19] has dealt a serious blow to our efforts to bring peace to Syria. It is up to the Russians to demonstrate … that this process remains viable.”

The Kremlin, striking a somewhat defensive note, downplayed the certainty about the circumstances under which the aid convoy was struck, but it said that it too had doubts about the viability of the cease-fire deal.

“I cannot answer your question unequivocally if the truce in Syria is over,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said Sept. 20. “For the time being we just state that this obligation of our US counterparts has not been fulfilled.”
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