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The Journal Gazette

September 22, 2016 1:00 AM

White House tolerates an atrocity in Syria

Washington Post Editorial

Even by the blood-drenched standards of Syria, the attack on a United Nations humanitarian relief convoy near Aleppo on Monday was horrific – and criminal.

Aid workers say trucks that carried desperately needed aid for the rebel-held side of the city, along with a warehouse, were repeatedly bombed, killing at least20 people.

Senior U.S. officials told reporters there were “strong indications” that the attack came from the air and that either Russian or Syrian planes were responsible.

Red Cross and U.N. officials rightly demanded an investigation and suggested the attack was a war crime. “There has been a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law,” said Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

A logical U.S. response would have been to ask for an immediate meeting of the U.N. Security Council – like the one Russia demanded Saturday after the mistaken bombing of a Syrian army camp by planes from the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State.

There was no such summons. Instead, Secretary of State John Kerry declared that the cease-fire the attack had so gruesomely violated was “not dead” – and called for more talks with Russia.

“There was still an imperative” to pursue “the arrangement reached last week in Geneva between the United States and Russia,” read a State Department statement.

Kerry’s optimism was at odds with that of the Syrian and Russian governments: The former declared the cease-fire over, and the latter said its prospects were “very weak.”

His optimism also showed a shocking tolerance for atrocities committed by forces with which the United States is proposing to ally itself.

The Obama administration pledged that if the truce held for seven days and humanitarian supplies were delivered, it would join with Russia in launching airstrikes against Syrian rebel forces deemed to be “terrorists.”

It is hard to conceive of a more definitive trashing of the agreement than Monday’s attack.

When the convoy departed for Aleppo, “notification ... had been provided to all parties to the conflict, and the convoy was clearly marked as humanitarian,” said U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien.

Yet as the trucks were being unloaded, “the place turned into hell, and fighter jets were in the sky,” said the White Helmets civil defense group’s Aleppo director in a video.

Predictably, Russian and Syrian officials denied their planes were involved – just as they have brushed off the well-documented reports of their air attacks on hospitals, food stores and other civilian targets.

That only makes the offense – and the danger of the Kerry deal – greater. After all, the United States acknowledged the mistaken attack Saturday, which hit a military target. What will the State Department say when, after joining forces with Russia, there is another bombing of civilians or international aid workers for which Russia denies responsibility?

The administration’s evident willingness to overlook war crimes in its zeal to collaborate with Vladimir Putin was perhaps best explained by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson: The Kerry-Russia deal, he said, “is the only show in town.” That’s because President Barack Obama has refused to allow other options, such as a U.S.-defended safe zone for civilians or military action to ground the Syrian air force. With no other cards, Kerry is still pleading for cooperation from those who bombed the Red Cross.