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This Is Not The First Attack On Aid Workers In Syria - But It Must Be The Last

26/09/2016 01:04
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

On the afternoon of 19 September, volunteers from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, together with their UN counterparts, were happy. They had crossed a crucial frontline point to bring a 31 truck convoy to Orem, an area of western Rural Aleppo desperately in need of aid.

Omar Barakat, the local sub-branch head of SARC, had been working with partners for some time to make this delivery happen. Permissions and access had been obtained for the convoy, carrying medical supplies, food, blankets and winter clothing.

Hours later, the warehouse and convoy became a scene of carnage. 20 civilians - most of whom were helping unload the aid - were killed. 18 trucks turned to twisted hot metal. Barakat was seriously injured. The attack was so severe rescuers could not reach him. He later died from his wounds.

Since the beginning of this conflict, aid workers have been targeted, and rules of international humanitarian law have been flouted. Volunteers whose only aim is to help their fellow Syrians have been shot, others have been held against their will. Mortars have been aimed at aid convoys or hit Red Crescent facilities.

To be an aid worker in these circumstances requires immense bravery. Many of the volunteers are young people, still studying or freshly out of university, now dedicating their lives not to their future careers but helping their communities. Qualified architects are not rebuilding Syria, they are driving ambulances. Dentists are out on the streets pulling people from rubble and giving first aid. Many of these volunteers have also been directly affected by the conflict - volunteers who have become displaced from one area pick up their duties in a new town. Those who have lost loved ones support others experiencing the same loss.

These volunteers are not collateral damage. They are not acceptable targets when a ceasefire ends. Ceasefire or no, the rules of international humanitarian law still apply. Safe access must mean safe access. Guarantees given by fighting parties must be honoured.

This recent attack has horrified people across the world. It has also denied 78,000 people of much-needed aid. These attacks cannot and must not continue. We call for all aid workers to be respected and protected. This, sadly, may not be the first time aid workers have been attacked. But it should be - it must be - the last.

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