— UK Mission Geneva (@UKMissionGeneva) September 19, 2016
A Living Hell: Syrians Trapped Without Aid.
On September 19th, a two-hour aerial attack was carried out on a United Nations/Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid convoy carrying food, medical supplies, blankets and winter clothing that was intended for approximately 80,000 people in a rebel-held area in western rural Aleppo.
The convoy, as well as the Syrian Arab Red Crescent warehouse where it was docked far from military presence were bombed from the air intensively and relentlessly during a ceasefire meant to halt all fighting to allow aid to reach besieged areas that are cut off from food and medical supplies.
It is suspected that this was a deliberate attack on a relief operation that was heading to men, women and children who are isolated, facing starvation, sick, vulnerable to air raids and who are about to endure a long, cold, harsh and bitter winter.
Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International explained the strikes as, “A sustained attack on a humanitarian convoy and workers, horrific enough in any circumstances, will in this case also have a disastrous impact not only on those desperate civilians for whom the assistance was intended, but for life-saving humanitarian operations throughout Syria.”
The attack, which took place a week into the agreed ceasefire mediated by the United States and Russia, killed 21 civilians, mostly consisting of truck drivers, as well as volunteer aid workers and the Red Crescent’s Urum al-Kubra branch chief, Omar Barakat who worked tirelessly for the organization. Many rescue workers who attempted to help were also injured.
21 out of the 31 trucks—along with a large percentage of the supplies due to reach people in dire need—were partially or completely destroyed.
The UN aid chief, Stephen O’Brien, said that the convoy was clearly marked, travelling with all the necessary permits, and that all parties in the conflict had been notified of its route. O’Brien also declared: “Let me be clear: if this callous attack is found to be a deliberate targeting of humanitarians, it would amount to a war crime.” He added: “I call for an immediate, impartial and independent investigation into this deadly incident. The perpetrators should know that they will one day be held accountable for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.”
At an emergency session of the UN Security Council that was held on Sunday, the 25th of September, US Ambassador Samantha Power accused Russia and Syria, believing that they carried out the attack calling it an “all-out offensive” with the intentions of retaking the divided city adding that it was “Barbarism.” She said: “Instead of pursuing peace, Russia and Assad make war. Instead of helping get lifesaving aid to civilians, Russia and Assad are bombing the humanitarian convoys, hospitals and first responders who are trying desperately to keep people alive.”
Dmitri Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, spoke on Monday to deny Russia or it’s Syrian allies were involved in the attack and to denounce recent Western accusations that Russia are complicit in the destruction of Aleppo, which is still home to approximately 2 million people, stating: “We note the overall unacceptable tone and rhetoric of the representatives of the United Kingdom and the United States, which can damage and harm our relations.”
The attack had prompted the UN to announce a temporary halt of its aid operations in Syria. However, fortunately, it was lifted after 48 hours, and aid trucks carrying life saving supplies that had been sat at the Turkish/Syrian border unable to move for days have finally reached rebel-held Madaya and three other besieged towns.
It is thought that if the ceasefire was ignored it may have been due to the US-led coalition jets bombing regime positions, killing 62 Syrian soldiers and injuring approximately 100 just days after the ceasefire was implemented.
The US immediately carried out an investigation, claiming that their strikes were intended for Islamic State forces in the area, and that they were not an intentional aim for the Syrian military.
The US Central Command stated that they had notified Russia prior to the strike in eastern Syria’s Deir al-Zour province and that they accidentally hit militants and that they were the result of a miscalculation. A senior official for the US army said that the US, “Relayed our regret through the Russian Federation for the unintentional loss of life of Syrian forces fighting ISIL.”
Russian’s foreign ministry responded with a statement saying that they believed that the strikes were: “On the boundary between criminal negligence and direct connivance with Islamic State terrorists.” And that they were a “stubborn refusal” to cooperate with Moscow in fighting ISIS and other terrorist groups.
Meanwhile, on the Jordan/Syrian border tens of thousands of refugees—including men, women and children—who attempted to flee the war torn country through Jordan are now stranded and suffering without any sign of aid.
Jordan sealed its border to Syria in June 2016 for security reasons, after seven Jordanian soldiers were killed in a suicide car bomb attack, which the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for.
The bomber set off from a makeshift Syrian refugee camp in Jordan’s remote northeast and drove through an area that was previously used as an opening for humanitarian aid to pass through before blowing himself up as he arrived at a Jordanian military post.
The closure of this territory has caused 75,000 refugees, half of them being children, to be left in worsening humanitarian conditions without running water, toilets or electricity in the open desert on the Syrian/Jordanian border.
Amnesty International have proclaimed, “It’s a desperate picture… food is running out and disease is rife. In some cases people are suffering or even dying from preventable illnesses, simply because they are not allowed into Jordan and the authorities have blocked access for aid, medical treatment and a meaningful humanitarian response.”
Currently 13.5 million people in Syria are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.
There are 4.8 million Syrian refugees and 6.5 million people who are displaced within Syria, and half of them are children. These children are at risk of becoming ill, malnourished, abused or exploited—and around 2-3 million are no longer able to attend school.
Since the war began in Syria, approximately 400,000 people have been killed, including more than 14,000 children.
Dr. Christine Latif, World Vision’s response manager for Turkey and northern Syria explains, “The children of Syria have experienced more hardship, devastation, and violence than any child should have to in a thousand lifetimes.”
**Here is how we can help: donate and support World Vision’s work—supplying food aid, health assistance, hygiene support, baby care kits, water and sanitation, shelter repair kits, winterization supplies, stoves and other winter supplies, education and recreation, programming for life skills, peace building and resilience, psychosocial support for children, cold-weather gear for refugees traveling to Europe—by clicking here. Or, support “Save the Children” by clicking here.
Author: Alex Myles
Images: Twitter @UKMissionGeneva
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina