The Russian Defense Ministry said on Tuesday that neither Russian nor Syrian war planes had struck a humanitarian convoy near Aleppo the previous day, saying the convoy's whereabouts had only been known to militants on the ground.
The Syrian Red Crescent said the head of one of its local offices and "around 20 civilians" were killed in the attack. The U.S. State Department said it was "outraged" by the bombing and would be raising the matter directly with Russia.
Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Russian military, denied any Russian involvement in the attack in a statement read out on the state-run Rossiya 24 TV channel on Tuesday however.
"All information on the whereabouts of the convoy was available only to the militants controlling these areas," Konashenkov said.
That appeared to contradict a statement by U.N. humanitarian aid spokesman Jens Laerke, who told reporters in Geneva earlier on Tuesday, that Russia had been notified about the convoy in advance.
However, according to Russia Today news website, Russian authorities monitored the movements of the convoy only up to a certain point, and stopped monitoring once the trucks had entered rebel terrirotry, after which time their distribution was the responsiblity of rebels. It was at this point that the attack occured, according to Russian officials.
"Around 13:40 Moscow time (10:40 GMT) the aid convoy successfully reached the destination. The Russian side did not monitor the convoy after this and its movements were only known by the militants who were in control of the area,” Konashenkov said, according to RT.
The Russian news site went on to explain that Russian officials say they have been examining video footage from where the incident took place, and there were unable to identify any strikes from aircraft or artillery, a finding that conflicts with the narrative from the United States.
“We have closely studied the video footage from where the incident took place and we did not find any signs of any ammunition having hit the convoy. There are no craters, while the vehicles have their chassis intact and they have not been severely damaged, which would have been the case from an airstrike,” Konashenkov said.
“All of the video footage demonstrates that the convoy caught fire, which strangely happened almost at exactly at the same time as militants started a large scale offensive on Aleppo.”
The Russian narrative raises the possibility that the convoy attack was conducted by rebels seeking to implicate Russian and Syrian forces in a war crime, thereby bringing further international pressure to bear upon them. In the past, Russia and the Syrian government have accused rebel forces of conducting chemical weapons attacks with the support of the US and Saudi Arabia, and then blaming the attacks on pro-Assad forces and accusing them of war crimes.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov earlier on Tuesday made a series of gloomy comments on Syria, saying the situation was "a source of great concern" and that there was little hope for a renewal of a ceasefire there.
On Tuesday, the ICRC, which said it was postponing an aid convoy that had been set to deliver supplies to four besieged Syrian towns, warned of the consequences for millions of civilians in need.
"As an immediate security measure, other convoy movements in Syria have been suspended for the time being pending further assessment of the security situation," Jens Laerke, U.N. humanitarian aid spokesman, told a news briefing in Geneva.
"However we remain committed to stay and deliver to everybody in need in Syria," he added.