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UPDATE 1530 GMT: US Secretary of State John Kerry has called for the grounding of all aircraft over key humanitarian routes in northern Syria.

Kerry told the UN Security Council that the no-fly order could restore credibility to efforts to end the conflict and “give a chance for humanitarian assistance to flow unimpeded”.

The Secretary of State said the attack on the UN aid convoy had dealt a “heavy blow” to effort for peace, creating a “profound doubt” over whether Russia and the Assad regime will live up to commitments for a resolution.


UPDATE 1515 GMT: Regime warplanes have bombed Khan Skeikhoun in Idlib Province.

Activists say 13 people were killed and 25 were wounded.


UPDATE 0600 GMT: US officials have told journalists, including the BBC and The New York Times, that the strikes on the UN convoy were carried out by two Russian-made Su-24 strike aircraft.

While the warplanes are used by both the Russian and regime air forces, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said Russia was “responsible” for the attack.

The officials said that their assessment was based on intelligence from the site, but that the Obama Administration wants to allow Moscow the time and space to investigate and announce its own conclusions about the attack.

A “senior American official” said the Pentagon had determined with “very high probability” that a Su-24 was directly over the convoy less than a minute before the airstrike was reported:

We have a very good picture of the skies over Syria, as well as where there’s activity. We know the plane in question was Russian, not Syrian, and was directly overhead.

American analysts are assessing photographs of the bomb damage and checking for any intercepted communications from the pilots of the attacking warplanes.

Another official said:

We have no indication that anything other than Russian tactical aircraft were in the air at the time the convoy was struck, to include both strike and reconnaissance aircraft. We have seen no indication that it was anything other than an airstrike.

A statement by the Free Syrian Army said “Russian surveillance drones circled” over the area before the attack. It also pointed to an assault which included not only missiles, with “18 airstrikes”, barrel-bombing by helicopters, and gunfire from the warplanes.

ORIGINAL ENTRY: Put on the political defensive by the pro-Assad airstrikes that demolished most of a UN aid convoy, Russia spent much of Tuesday trying to shift blame to Syria’s rebels — or even to claim that the trucks mysteriously combusted.

The convoy of the UN and Syrian Arab Red Crescent was struck on Monday night after it reached warehouses at Orem al-Kubra in western Aleppo Province. Warplanes struck in a “double tap” operation, reportedly delivering five missiles, attacking a second time as rescuers tried to assist the wounded from the first assault.

Of the 31 trucks, 18 were hit. At least 20 people were killed, including 12 Red Crescent personnel.

Facing UN declarations that an attack on humanitarian operations constituted a war crime, Russia deployed its spokespersons to protect itself and its ally, the Assad regime.

The Defense Ministry said there were no Russian or regime airstrikes and insinuated that rebels must have carried out a ground attack: “All of the video footage demonstrates that the convoy caught fire, which strangely happened almost at exactly at the same time as militants started a large scale offensive on Aleppo.”

But it also put out the curious claim that there was no sign of the convoy being hit by any fire from the air or ground: “We have closely studied the video footage from where the incident took place and we did not find any signs of any ammunition having hit the convoy. There are no craters, while the vehicles have their chassis intact and they have not been severely damaged, which would have been the case from an airstrike.”

The White Helmets civil defense organization immediately called out the Russians for attempted deception:

Later, the Russian Defense Ministry tried another approach: the convoy made itself a target because it was “accompanied by terrorists’ off-road vehicle with large-caliber mortar launcher”. There was no corroboration of the claim. A study by The Interpreter site, using geolocation, indicated that the off-road vehicle was not with the convoy, but was just passing it.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, meeting US Secretary of State John Kerry and other foreign ministers in New York, took a more defensive line.

Responding to a Russian drone video which showed monitoring of the convoy as it moved to Orem al-Kubra, Lavrov insisted that the Russians had “lost track of it when it entered rebel territory”. He said there would be an investigation of the incident.

UN Pulls Back from “Airstrikes” Claim”

The Russians did receive some unexpected relief at the end of the day, as the UN pulled back from saying that airstrikes devastated its aid convoy.

The organization put out a revised version of an earlier statement, replacing “airstrikes” with unspecified “attacks”.

UN humanitarian spokesman Jens Laerke said the references to airstrikes in the original statement were probably the result of a drafting error: “We are not in a position to determine whether these were in fact airstrikes. We are in a position to say that the convoy was attacked.”

And US Secretary of State Kerry, following the discussion with Lavrov, insisted that the US-Russian plan for an end to hostilities — which was supposed to provide aid to besieged areas — is still in place:

The ceasefire is not dead. We are going to continue to work. We are going to meet again Friday on some specific steps.

Opposition Warned UN of Danger to Convoy

On Sunday, Syrian opposition members warned UN officials against sending the convoys, reporting regime violations of the ceasefire in and around Aleppo.

“The airstrikes are not a reason to stop the convoy,” replied an official from the office of UN envoy Staffan de Mistura.

The official said that this was the position of a representative of the UN Department of Political Affairs, suggesting that some people working with de Mistura disagreed.

“The safety of convoys traveling through government areas is the responsibility of the government,” a second UN official, based in Damascus, wrote to a senior opposition member in a separate exchange of messages.

The official assured, “If [rebels] permit entrance, we will have all the sufficient guarantees to stop bombing from the government side.”

US Military: Our Forces Raised American Flags Alongside Kurdish Forces on Border

A Defense Department spokesman has confirmed that American forces raised US flags alongside Kurdish forces in a border town in northern Syria last week.

The three flags, near and on buildings in Tal Abyad, raised speculation of disinformation by the Kurdish militia YPG that Americans were present. Others postulated that the US special forces wanted to avoid becoming collateral damage in any attack by Turkey on the YPG, whom Anakra considers part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK.


Asked on Monday about the incident, a US Central Command spokesman, Major Josh Jacques, said, “I can confirm last week that US forces operating in northern Syria used flags to denote their positions.”

Colonel John Dorian, a spokesman for the campaign against the Islamic State, assured that the US would not permit any other groups ― including the YPG ― to fly the American flag.