From bad to unbelievably bad

This is about as awful a thing as you could have envisioned, both from a humanitarian standpoint and if you had any hope that the nearly busted Syrian ceasefire could somehow be saved:

A United Nations aid convoy and a Syrian Arab Red Crescent warehouse were both struck by warplanes in Syria Monday local time, a UN spokesman said.

Twelve people involved in the aid delivery were killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based organzation that monitors the conflict in Syria.

At least 32 people in total were killed in strikes that hit Aleppo and its western suburbs, SOHR said.

The UN is working with the Syrian humanitarian organization to deliver aid to 78,000 people in the town of Urum al-Kubra, just west of Aleppo.

The UN estimates that 18 of 31 trucks in the aid convoy were hit.

The fog of war being what it is, it’s not yet entirely clear what happened. If this was an airstrike, which is what the UN is saying, then obviously you’re talking about either the US coalition, Russia, or Syria. Then you have to look at who was flying sorties in that area. It’s not inconceivable, I suppose, that the coalition might be bombing targets north of Aleppo, but it’s not as likely as Russia or Syria. And of those two, this seems more like something Assad’s forces would do. This is certainly the argument being advanced by the US:

Secretary of State John Kerry challenged the Syrian military’s declaration that the cease-fire was over, suggesting that the United States would hold Russia responsible for seeing that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, one of its principal allies, implemented it.

“The Syrians didn’t make the deal; the Russians made the agreement,” Mr. Kerry said during meetings in New York before the annual United Nations General Assembly. “The important thing is the Russians need to control Assad who evidently is indiscriminately bombing, including of humanitarian convoys.”

Of course, pushing that theory also works to Washington’s benefit, in terms of redirecting outrage away from Saturday’s unintentional (probably) US/coalition strike on Syrian army positions in Deir ez-Zor. But assuming it was Syria, the question is whether or not the strike was deliberate (I think we can assume that Moscow would not want the international heat that would come from striking an aid convoy, so if it was a Russian strike it was most likely unintentional). Reports from witnesses suggest that this was a “double-tap” strike, which doesn’t say much about who did it but does suggest a certain level of malicious intent.

Look, I understand why Washington wants this ceasefire to work. It’s realistically the last chance the Obama administration has to make progress on Syria before Obama leaves office. But barring some kind of miracle at the UN this week, it doesn’t look good. If it’s determined that this was Assad’s air force that struck the convoy, it will probably renew Western opposition to his remaining in power, at a time when the US and Europe had come to pretty much acquiesce to the notion that Assad would at least remain in place through a hypothetical transition. Five years later, not much about the Syrian civil war has actually changed. Sure, the disposition of forces on the ground has shifted, but the war’s central questions–whether Assad stays or goes, and what kind of Syria emerges if he goes–are no closer to being answered than they were back in 2011.



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