US wants to distract attention from coalition strike on Syria troops – Lavrov

Smoke rises behind the ancient castle of the rebel-controlled town of Maaret al-Numan after airstrikes in Idlib province, Syria, September 25, 2016. © Khalil Ashawi
The US and its Western partners are trying to steer the world’s attention away from their airstrikes on the Syrian Army by accusing Russia of attacking a UN humanitarian convoy outside Aleppo, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Russian television.

“I would like to emphasize that the Americans and their Western allies, for one thing, want to distract public attention from what had happened in Deir ez-Zor,” Lavrov told NTV on Monday following an urgent session of the UN Security Council.

On September 17, a Syrian Army unit was hit by US-led coalition aircraft near the city of Deir ez-Zor, eastern Syria, resulting in 62 troops being killed and many more being injured. Syrian officials later said the attacks lasted about an hour and had been visibly “intentional.” The Russian Defense Ministry said that the aircraft which carried out the airstrike had entered Syrian airspace from Iraq.

Two days later, an aid convoy consisting of 31 lorries was attacked while heading to Aleppo. According to the Red Cross, 20 civilians and one aid worker died as a result. Initial reports by the organization claimed the convoy had been targeted by an airstrike.

The US was quick to blame Russia and Syria for the attack, demanding that both countries’ air forces operating in the area be grounded immediately. Moscow said that there were no military flights over the area at that time.

“When the humanitarian convoy was hit [outside Aleppo], we demanded that an investigation be conducted. [US Secretary of State] John Kerry, a good partner of mine, behaved in a way he never has done previously.” 

"He claimed that the investigation might take place, but they know who did it, namely the Syrian Army or Russia, and that it was Russia's fault in any case,” Lavrov said.

Kerry appeared to be “pinned down by stark criticism from the American military apparatus,” Lavrov noted, which may indicate that the US military does not comply with its commander-in-chief’s orders.

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“[President] Barack Obama always supported, as I was told, cooperation with Russia, and he confirmed it himself during the meeting with [President] Vladimir Putin in China. It seems to me that the military may not be obeying their supreme commander too much.”

Lavrov went on to say that Washington is still trying to point the finger at Russia and hold it accountable for what is happening in Syria. Such an approach is counterproductive and leaves Moscow wary of the US-led coalition’s actions, the FM said, adding that now he cannot “100 percent trust” the US and the coalition.

Moscow will push for a detailed investigation into the attack on the convoy, the minister added.

‘US not coping with its Syria obligations’

The US and the West are not fulfilling their obligations on combating Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), Lavrov said.

“It’s clear that the West, led by the US, which runs the anti-IS coalition and, as they put it, Al-Nusra Front in Syria, do not meet their obligations.”

The foreign minister stated in conclusion that the US-led coalition “hits only IS targets and does not engage Al-Nusra at all.”

“Every time I meet Kerry, he assures me that Al-Nusra is the same terrorist threat as Islamic State. But they do not hit [Al-Nusra].”

The widening rift between the leading world powers is likely to endanger any hopes of a revived truce in Syria. Some third parties believe that the ceasefire has been severely disrupted. Martin Schaefer, spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry, told journalists on Monday: “We have to take into account that US-Russia agreement that we welcomed last week is at least temporarily suspended.”