A UN aid convoy has been mortared in Syria, while rescuing 83 civilians.
The aid workers were on a mission in Homs, the battered and besieged Syrian city, when they were attacked while trying to carry out the rescue, and provide desperately needed medical supplies to civilians. Part of the convoy was made up of UN vehicles and the rest from the Red Crescent, but all were clearly marked in the colors of their respective aid organisations.
The rescued civilians of Homs had been living under siege conditions for nearly two years before the rescue took place, and desperately needed chronic disease medical supplies.
The mission had only been made possible by UN negotiators convincing the combatants to hold a three-day cease-fire so that the civilians could be rescued. That tenuous ceasefire appears to have collapsed, or possibly the attacks were deliberately redirected at the UN.
The UN has made it clear that they wish to go back to Homs and continue the rescues as there are many other civilians who wish to leave the city.
At this time it is not clear who carried out the attack. The government of Bashar al-Assad immediately blamed the rebels, branding them terrorists. However, the shells landed in rebel areas, and were likely fired from elsewhere. The convoy has also been viewed with great suspicion by the Syrian government as it is carrying some medical supplies that will likely be available to the rebels, as well as civilians.
Civilians in the city are reported as resorting to eating leaves from weeds in order to survive. In order to deal with this crisis the convoys dropped off 250 food parcels along with the medical supplies. When the Red Crescent left Homs that evening they had to leave behind several vehicles but all their workers emerged unharmed. However, it is reported that several civilians were injured, and possibly killed in the strike. It is not clear whether or not Syria’s ally Hezbollah, and its fighters, are present at the siege of Homs, but they would likely be an unpredictable element if present. The fighting may see another UN aid convoy mortared in Syria.
The two sides in the conflict are currently involved in peace talks in Geneva, Switzerland, and the convoy to Homs is the first real result of those talks.
The evacuation of the last remaining civilians in Homs, may lead to an endgame where al-Assad’s forces try to storm the city. Possibly with the help of Iranian military commanders who have vocally supported the recent advance of Syrian government troops.
Rebel forces themselves have been involved with infighting between themselves as jihadi groups attack on another. One group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, was recently disowned by Al Qaeda in a public statement, but remains a powerful force in Syria, and currently control Fallujah in Iraq.
Further UN aid convoys are scheduled to visit Homs this weekend, it is unclear whether they can hope to complete their mission without being mortared in the Syrian city.
By Andrew Willig