Humanitarian Convoy Hit Ending Week-Long Syrian Ceasefire

Marissa Laramie, Current Events and Sports Editor

Humanitarian aid being sent into Syria was halted earlier this week after an attack on one of the convoys bringing in supplies near Aleppo brought the ceasefire to a stop. The United Nations, among other agencies, made the decision to pull support after the bombing killed over twenty people. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent was transporting supplies for 78,000 people from the U.N. when it was hit in Urum Al-Kubra. The ceasefire, a joint deal between Russia and the United States, began on September 12 and brought hope to many who sought to bring an end to some of the violence that has plagued the country. Since that day, however, the Syrian Armed Forces General Command has issued a statement on the attack, claiming the deal “is over.” The Syrian regime continued its assault on rebel held positions soon after, and began targeting the neutral, unarmed rescue group the White Helmets.

Now the question is raised: who is responsible for the attack? The United States has come forward and stated that they believe there is enough evidence to support the claim that Russia conducted the airstrikes. However, both Russia and Syria have adamantly denied any involvement in the attacks. The Russian Defense Ministry came forward and blamed the damages on cargo fire and alleged that this is a distraction from a US-lead strike earlier that week. Syrian activists are not convinced by the statements made by Moscow and believe that they or the Syrian regime are the perpetrators. Even if the Syrian regime is to blame, the United States is questioning Russia’s commitment to working on lessening the violence in Syria as it was their role to keep Syrian airstrikes controlled during the time of ceasefire. Deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes stated, “we hold the Russian government responsible for airstrikes in this airspace given their commitment under the cessation of hostilities was to ground air operations where humanitarian assistance was flowing.” No matter who staged the bombing, the U.N.’s Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien confirmed that if humanitarian aid workers were specifically targeted, “it would amount to a war crime.”

All immediate hope of restoring the ceasefire was ended Friday, September 23rd 2016 after the Syria announced a new offensive on the city of Aleppo. A United Nations Summit in New York on Monday yielded no answers on how to restore some form of peace. US Secretary of State John Kerry, who attended the summit, stated, “we cannot continue on the same path any longer.” But what else can be done? Not much right now, not until the United States and Russia can put aside their differences and work out another agreement.

As the work to restore a ceasefire continues, Russia and the United States have begun to blame each other for numerous violations of the initial terms. Instead of bickering about who is worse, nations should be joining together to discuss these mistakes and to learn from them for the greater good. The tragedy is a grim reminder of the events that took place on October 3, 2015 in Northern Afghanistan when the United States Air Force attacked the Kunduz Trauma Centre, in which Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was operating out of. Thirty people were killed but the airstrike on the hospital was still only described by the United States military as an “avoidable human error” and stated that the individuals involved didn’t follow the rules of engagement. Overall, nothing other than a few thin apologies came out of the situation before it was brushed aside.

We obviously aren’t doing enough to ensure the safety of humanitarian workers, especially while they are neutral and unarmed volunteers. Nations need to be held accountable for failing to keep groups such as the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and MSF safe while working.  To do this, standards need to be set by the United Nations. It would be one thing if it were radical groups threatening and targeting aid workers, it’s another thing that it’s developed countries, especially ones who were previously working to stop the violence. As Kerry said, we cannot go down this path any longer. Change needs to happen, and it needs to happen now.