Yesterday, an unnamed U.S. official told the Associated Press that airstrikes which destroyed a clearly marked UN aid convoy in Aleppo was carried out by Russia. Russia denied responsibility and suggested the convoy’s destruction was the result of a cargo fire. Secretary of State Kerry openly mocked the idea that the convoy had “spontaneously combusted” and pointedly asked whether anyone at the UN assembly believed the Russian story.
Today the Associated Press published an interview with Syrian President Bashar Assad. Not surprisingly, Assad denies that Syria or Russia had anything to do with the attack, which if intentional would be considered a war crime. Assad says the American claims to the contrary are “just lies” and “bubbles.” From the AP transcript of the interview:
Q: Did Syria or Russia launch the attack on the Red Crescent convoy this week, and should Moscow be held responsible, as the White House has said?
A: No, first of all, there have been tens, maybe, of convoys from different organizations around the world, coming to different areas in Syria for the last few years. It has never happened before, so why to happen now, either by the Russians or the Syrians? No, it’s a claim. And regarding the claim of the White House yesterday, accusing either the Syrians or the Russians. In that regard, I would say whatever the American officials said about the conflicts in Syria in general has no credibility. Whatever they say, it’s just lies and, let’s say, bubbles, has no foundation on the ground.
Q: So what happened to the convoy? Who should be held responsible?
A: Those convoys were in the area of the militants, the area under the control of the terrorists. That’s what they should accuse first: the people or the militants, the terrorists who are responsible for the security of this convoy. So, we don’t have any idea about what happened. The only thing that we saw was a video of a burnt car, destroyed trucks, nothing else.
Q: Several eyewitnesses have told AP that 20 missiles were launched against the convoy. There is footage of torn bodies. This does not seem as though it would be anything but an attack from the air. Eyewitnesses are also talking about barrel bombs, and as you are aware, your administration has been accused of using barrel bombs in some circumstances. You still think this was an attack from the ground by rebels?
A: Yeah, first of all, even the United Nations said that there were no airstrikes against that convoy. That was yesterday. Second, at the same time of that event, the terrorists were attacking the Syrian troops by missiles. They launched missile attacks, we didn’t respond. Third, you cannot talk about eyewitnesses for such judgment or accusation. What are the credibility of those eyewitnesses, who are they? We don’t know.
The response from the State Department was published in a separate AP story:
A spokesman for the U.S. State Department dismissed Assad’s claims as “ridiculous,” adding that they underline that Assad has lost his legitimacy to govern.
“It’s difficult to see how these ridiculous claims deserve a response, except to say they prove yet again the degree to which Assad has lost his legitimacy to govern and how vital it remains for the international community to achieve a political solution that gives the Syrian people a voice in their future,” spokesman John Kirby said Thursday.
Meanwhile, the cease-fire which the White House was so eager to protect appears to be dead. Last week the White House killed a bipartisan bill aimed at sanctioning Syria for proven instances of mass murder and mass torture by quietly asking Democrats not to vote for it.