Russia says there are no signs indicating that a United Nations (UN) convoy that was apparently attacked in the Syrian province of Aleppo on Monday was hit by an airstrike.
Igor Konashenkov, the spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, said in a statement on Tuesday that a close study of video footage captured by a Russian drone revealed no signs of munitions having hit the aid convoy.
“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,” Konashenkov said.
He concluded that “the convoy caught fire, which strangely happened almost at exactly at the same time as militants started a large scale offensive on Aleppo.”
Konashenkov said the convoy was in an area in Aleppo Province that was controlled by militants. He said Russia had used drones to monitor the convoy but only to a certain point.
“Around 13:40 Moscow time (10:40 GMT), the aid convoy successfully reached the destination. The Russian side did not monitor the convoy after this and its movements were only known by the militants who were in control of the area,” the Russian Defense Ministry spokesman explained.
He also said that a pickup truck with a large caliber mortar used by the militants can clearly be seen in the footage. “The video clearly shows how the terrorists are relocating a pickup truck with a large-caliber mortar.”
The UN had said earlier that at least 18 trucks in the 31-vehicle convoy were destroyed late Monday as they came under an “airstrike” while en route to deliver humanitarian assistance to the hard-to-reach town of Urum al-Kubra. The world body later reversed that assertion, however.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said in a statement that the airstrike killed around 20 people, including one of its staff members.
UN backtracks, US doesn’t
Russia, which has been carrying out an aerial campaign in Syria on a request by Damascus, said soon after the incident that neither its military nor that of Syria had conducted any airstrike against the convoy.
In his Tuesday statement, Konashenkov reiterated that position. “Russian and Syrian warplanes did not carry out any airstrikes on a UN humanitarian aid convoy in the southwest of Aleppo.”
Nevertheless, the United States said it held Russia responsible.
On Tuesday, Ben Rhodes, US President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, said all indications are “that this was an airstrike.”
“That means,” he said, “there only could have been two entities responsible: either the Syrian regime or the Russian government. In any event, we hold the Russian government responsible.”
The US insistence came even as the UN, which had earlier said an airstrike had targeted its convoy, backtracked by saying it could not determine whether an airstrike had actually occurred.
“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,” UN humanitarian spokesman Jens Laerke said.
Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. Over the past few months, the militants active in the Arab country have suffered major setbacks as the Syrian army has managed to liberate several areas.
Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city, has been divided between government forces and foreign-backed militants since 2012.