GENEVA (Reuters) - Analysis of satellite imagery of a deadly attack on an aid convoy in Syria last month showed that it was an airstrike, a United Nations expert said on Wednesday.
Some 20 people were killed in the attack on the U.N. and Syrian Arab Red Crescent convoy at Urem Al-Kubra near the northern city of Aleppo which destroyed 18 of 31 trucks, a warehouse and clinic.
The United States blamed two Russian warplanes which it said were in the skies above the area at the time of the incident. Moscow denies the charge and says the convoy caught fire.
“We had an image of that and could clearly see the damage there. With our analysis we determined it was an air strike and I think multiple other sources have said that as well,” Lars Bromley, research adviser at UNOSAT, told a news briefing.
“For airstrikes, what you are usually looking out for is the size of the crater that is visible and the type of crater,” he said. A giant crater on the ground was caused “almost certainly (by) air dropped munitions” as opposed to artillery or mortars, he said.
The United Nations has referred officially only to an “attack,” which led to a brief suspension of its convoys in Syria. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies initially referred to “air strikes” in a statement.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced on Friday that he would establish an internal U.N. board of inquiry to investigate the attack and urged all parties to fully cooperate.
UNOSAT (U.N. Operational Satellite Applications Programme), which reviews only commercially available satellite images, has not been asked to share its analysis with the U.N. investigators, but is prepared to do so, UNOSAT manager Einar Bjorgo said. “Our images are from time to time used in order to brief Security Council members,” he said.
Bjorgo, speaking generally, said: “We are neutral. We don’t have a political agenda, we simply state the facts.”
UNOSAT has mapped Syria’s conflict since it began in 2011, using satellite imagery to assess population movements and damage to civilian infrastructure. This enables U.N. agencies trying to deliver food and medical assistance to besieged areas to view roadblocks and checkpoints in real time.
Bromley, referring to rebel-held eastern Aleppo that has been pummeled by Syrian and Russian aircraft for the last 10 days, said:
“What you see is (that) formerly blasted and blown up areas are experiencing a great deal of additional damage. So it’s actually hard to do the analysis because to a certain extent you are looking at rubble being pushed around. But it’s certainly highly visible.”
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Mark Heinrich)