On Monday, an airstrike hit a humanitarian aid convoy that was attempting to deliver food and medical supplies to rebel-held areas of Aleppo in Syria, where hundreds of thousands of people have been cut off from aid deliveries for months. At least 18 of 31 trucks in the UN and Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) convoy were reportedly destroyed, killing at least one aid worker and around 20 civilians.
In response, the United Nations on Tuesday suspended all aid deliveries across Syria. "As an immediate security measure, other convoy movements in Syria have been suspended for the time being pending further assessment of the security situation," Jens Laerke, a UN humanitarian aid spokesman, told reporters in Geneva.
Although it is currently unclear whether it was Syrian government planes or Russian planes that carried out the strike, the United States has put the blame for the strike primarily on Russia, which backs the Syrian regime and as such is expected to be able to rein in the actions of its client, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
US State Department spokesperson John Kirby said in a statement that "The destination of this convoy was known to the Syrian regime and the Russian federation and yet these aid workers were killed in their attempt to provide relief to the Syrian people."
"The United States will raise this issue directly with Russia," Kirby said. "Given the egregious violation of the cessation of hostilities we will reassess the future prospects for cooperation with Russia."
Russia's Ministry of Defense issued a statement denying the accusations, stating that "Russian and Syrian warplanes did not carry out any airstrikes on a UN humanitarian aid convoy in the southwest of Aleppo."
The United Nations had only just received permission from the Syrian government to deliver aid to all besieged areas in the country, as part of a ceasefire agreement between the United States and Russia.
As Vox's Yochi Dreazen explains,
Under the terms of the ceasefire pact, the Syrian troops who have held the road since July and the rebels who’ve been fighting to take it back ever since were supposed to pull back from the highway, allowing aid convoys to make their way to Aleppo. Trucks holding enough supplies to feed 40,000 people for a month have been stuck in the Turkish city of Cilvegozu, unable to reach Aleppo’s starving residents.
That didn't happen. Instead, the deal collapsed in acrimony Monday after a dramatic few days that began with a botched US airstrike Saturday that killed 62 Syrian troops and ended with Damascus announcing Monday that the ceasefire was over.
Monday's strike on the aid convoy and the subsequent suspension of all aid deliveries across Syria Tuesday, then, essentially marks the end of the brief moment of hope many had that some relief, however small, could finally get to the estimated 250,000 starving Syrians in war-shattered Aleppo.
Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly's annual meeting in New York this morning, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon delivered a fiery condemnation of world leaders who keep "feeding the war machine" in Syria.
Ban, whose nearly 10-year reign as the UN's top official comes to an end on December 31, accused "powerful patrons" on both sides in the more than five-year-long Syrian conflict of having "blood on their hands."
"Present in this hall today are representatives of governments that have ignored, facilitated, funded, participated in, or even planned and carried out atrocities inflicted by all sides of the Syria conflict against Syrian civilians," Ban said.
"Many groups have killed innocent civilians — none more so than the government of Syria, which continues to barrel-bomb neighborhoods and systematically torture thousands of detainees," he added.