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1 Jul, 2016 00:48

Jihadists that US kept off terror list attack UN humanitarian convoy in Syria - MoD

Militants from an Al-Qaeda-linked group, Jaysh al-Islam, have shelled a UN humanitarian convoy near Damascus, the Russian Defense Ministry said. Despite the group’s repeated ceasefire violations, the UN rejected Russia’s bid to add it to the terror list.

"Insurgents of the Jaysh al-Islam grouping, which had claimed to belong to the [Syrian] opposition, carried out shelling of the UN humanitarian convoy in [the area of] Eastern Harasta [Damascus province]," the ministry said in a statement.

The driver of a rented vehicle, which was delivering aid, was "severely wounded," it added.

According to the ministry, the terrorists of Jaysh al-Islam also attacked positions of the Syrian armed forces with mortars in the villages of Arbil and Jaubar.

Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam) is a coalition of Islamist militant groups based near the Syrian capital, Damascus.

The militants are supported by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and the group is a part of a larger coalition called the Islamic Front that seeks to make Syria a country ruled by sharia law, exactly what its rival Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) aims to achieve. The group positions itself as “brother” fighters of the Al-Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda that is recognized as a terrorist group by the UN and many nations, including Russia, Iran and Egypt.

Jaysh al-Islam had previously admitted to using chemical weapons against Kurdish militias in Aleppo earlier this year. It is also known to have used human shields and published ISIS-style execution videos.

In April, Russia officially requested the UN to sanction and delegitimize Jaysh al-Islam, along with another militant group, Ahrar Al-Sham.

According to the Russian Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, the reason “for this step was the evidence that these organizations, fighting in Syria, are closely linked to terrorist organizations, first of all Islamic State [formerly ISIS/ISIL] and Al-Qaeda, and provide and receive from them financial, material, technical and military support.”

Thus, on May 13, Al-Sham fighters raided the village of Al-Zara, killing and capturing scores of inhabitants. Speaking to RT Arabic, the surviving villagers described the attack as a “massacre."

Yet, the group has a delegation at the UN-backed Syria peace talks in Geneva and is considered a party to the Syrian ceasefire, negotiated by Russia and the US.

In mid-May, Washington blocked a Russian proposal at the UN to delegitimize Ahrar ash-Sham and another group called Jaysh al-Islam, over their regular violations of the ceasefire, letting strikes hit both groups along with ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Britain, France and Ukraine sided with the US.

Washington said it would continue to back the group because they were “vetted” by the Saudis and play a role in the Syrian political process.