War of words over convoy's destruction continues as Russia accuses US of making 'unsubstantiated' allegations
The Free Syrian Army has said the Assad government is responsible for destroying an aid convoy headed for besieged Aleppo on Monday, accusing it of intentionally targeting the trucks and killing 31 people.
In a statement issued late on Wednesday night, the FSA rebel group said there was footage proving that Russian surveillance drones had captured the arrival of a 31-truck aid convoy in the western suburbs of Aleppo on Monday morning, while a ceasefire was still ostensibly in place.
According to the statement, the convoy was later targeted by fighter jets and helicopters dropping barrel bombs at 8.30pm local time, just an hour after Assad’s government declared an end to the week-long ceasefire deal.
The convoy’s destruction killed a total of 31 people, including 12 humanitarian workers and 19 civilians.
Assad's government had signed off on the convoy entering besieged areas of Aleppo on Sunday night.
The US has accused Russia of being behind the destruction, with officials saying that two Russian Sukhoi-24 jets – also flown by Syrian government forces - were detected in the air above the area at the precise time of the attack.
Russia, a key ally of the Syrian government, has hit back, saying it had detected a US drone in the area when the convoy was bombed and also said there was heavy rebel presence near the aid trucks.
In a televised statement issued on Wednesday, a Russian defence ministry spokesperson said the US was accusing Russia of the convoy strike in order to distract attention from a coalition strike that killed at least 60 government soldiers near Deir Ezzor on Saturday in what the US has said was a mistaken attack.
The spokesperson said a coalition drone had been detected in the area around the aid convoy hit in Aleppo, having set off from the Incirlik air base in Turkey.
“We do not make unsubstantiated conclusions...the purpose of this drone being in this area at that time and the mission it carried out, only its owners know.”
The spokesperson said “unsubstantiated accusations” against Russia were “growing exponentially,” saying “the method is well known, and the motives are obvious...to wash away the tragedy in Deir Ezzor”.
Washington has said that it does not conduct air strikes over Aleppo.
Russia had previously suggested that the convoy was destroyed by a fire on the ground, not by air strikes.
It later released what it said were stills from drone footage, which it said showed that heavily armed militants had been hiding behind the aid convoy.