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Published in Press Stream:
September 20, 2016

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Published in Stream:
September 20, 2016
Press by
The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Major Holes In Russia's Narrative On Airstrike Against UN Convoy; Witnesses Describe The Carnage
5 years
Stream: September 20, 2016
Publication: Putin in Syria
Russia Changes Story To Insinuate UN Aid Convoy Was Destroyed Because Of Proximity To "Terrorists"

As we have been reporting, the Russian narrative about last night's airstrike against a UN aid convoy in southwestern Aleppo province has several problems. First, the Kremlin's narrative has changed. Initially they claimed that there was no sign of an airstrike, and that the vehicles had spontaneously combusted (see updates below).

Since then, the Russian Ministry of Defense has released a video which reportedly shows a truck towing an artillery piece near the aid convoy. 

We have now geolocated the new video to this location, and we can prove that this vehicle was miles away from the location that the UN convoy was bombed. Furthermore, eyewitnesses and the Russian military's own video evidence suggest that the Russian drone followed the UN convoy for hours before helicopters repeatedly struck the convoy.

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2016-09-20 21:49:26
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2016-09-20 21:49:26
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2016-09-20 21:49:25
As you can see, the trucks in this vehicle are about 7 kilometers west of where a different video, analyzed by The Interpreter yesterday, shows the UN convoy unloading some of its cargo. Since the vehicles in this first convoy are pointed west, we might extrapolate that this new video was taken some time before yesterday's video was taken.
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2016-09-20 21:49:24
However, shadows are clearly visible in this video. This means that they were taken sometime before sunset. Using Suncalc.net, we can see that the video must have been taken late in the day, perhaps around 3:30-4 PM.
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2016-09-20 22:07:28
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The time on the SunCalc interface is for British Summer Time (two hours behind Syria)
2016-09-27 21:18:37

Meanwhile, we can tell from the start time of the RT live stream of the other video, showing the convoy on the edge of Urem al-Kubra, that the drone from which the footage was being broadcast was over the area until almost 16:30.

SunCalc analysis of this video provides a roughly similar time, although it is hard to determine with shadows alone since they are zoomed out and minute differences of angles matter. 


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2016-09-20 22:30:01
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2016-09-27 21:39:17

According to the Syrian Civil Defense, known as the White Helmets, the first attack on the UN convoy was made at 7:12 PM -- perhaps three and a half hours after the first video was taken and two and a half hours after the second was taken. That vehicle could have been anywhere by then, but it is a safe bet that it was very far away from the UN aid convoy. 

Is Russia now trying to say that they conducted an airstrike that killed 20 aid workers and damaged dozens of trucks just to destroy a single piece of artillery?

Beyond this, a new video has surfaced which reportedly shows the second part of a helicopter attack on the convoy. According to witnesses, the convoy was hit by a "double tap," two rounds of attacks where the second is designed to kill rescue workers -- a staple of Russian and Syrian airstrikes. In this video, which we have not yet been able to confirm, a helicopter can clearly be heard both flying and shooting at a target on the ground: 

All of this matches precisely with a timeline presented by witnesses on the ground. The Associated Press reports:

Local paramedic and media activist Mohammad Rasoul, who was among the first to arrive at the scene, said over 100 tons of food, medicine, and baby formula had gone up in flames. He said 18 of the convoy's 31 trucks were completely destroyed.

The attack "erased the convoy from the face of the earth," Rasoul said.

"I've never seen anything like this attack," he said. "If this had been a military position, it wouldn't have been targeted with such intensity."

He said the attack began around 20 minutes after sunset on Monday and continued for two hours.

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Syria cease-fire falters amid deadly strikes on aid convoy

BEIRUT (AP) - Syria's cease-fire has faltered further after an aid convoy was hit by airstrikes, with activists saying at least 12 people were killed in the attack, mostly truck drivers and Red Crescent workers. The strikes late on Monday came just hours after the Syrian military declared the week-long U.S.-Russian brokered cease-fire had failed.

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Sep 21, 2016 02:22 (GMT)

Another aid worker, Mahmoud Abu Zaid, told Newsnight on BBC2 that the drone watched the convoy for hours before the strike:

“What happened was almost two hours before the bombing we heard and saw a drone, as soon as the regime announced the end of the ceasefire, I had concerns that it would start bombing, because it flew over us for a long time. After two hours the helicopter came and dropped the first barrel bomb. After half a minute it dropped two barrel bombs together, afterwards there were six air strikes by the military jets. Then the jets with guns launched an attack. Afterwards the helicopters came back dropping barrel bombs, and then the jet with guns came back and started firing.”


-- James Miller, Pierre Vaux