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September, 29, 2016

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AP fact-checks Assad on Aleppo, airstrikes

BEIRUT -- During an interview with The Associated Press, Syrian President Bashar Assad made several denials, insisting that the city of Aleppo is not under siege and that Syrian and Russian aircraft did not carry out a strike on an aid convoy. He also said a U.S.-led coalition airstrike that killed more than 60 Syrian troops in the eastern Deir el-Zour province was "not an accident."

Here's a closer look at his statements and the facts surrounding them.

The Aid Convoy

ASSAD: The Syrian president denied Syria or Russia carried out Monday's attack on the aid convoy that killed 20 people, many of them aid workers. He suggested rebels were to blame, saying the area was under their control. He claimed that at the time of the attack, "terrorists" were striking government forces with missiles, and that his forces didn't respond in a show of restraint.

He questioned whether witnesses of the attack were credible and said videos of the incident showed only "a burnt car, destroyed trucks, nothing else."

FACTS: The convoy, organized by multiple aid agencies and led by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, was the latest in a regular mission delivering supplies from U.N. agencies to rural rebel-held areas in Aleppo province. For the September trip, it had obtained all necessary clearances from the government, rebels as well as the Americans and Russians, who operated aircraft in Syrian skies.

The convoy was at one its warehouses in the town of Uram al-Kubra, west of Aleppo city. The attack began after nightfall as staffers loaded trucks.

Witnesses described no fewer than 20 missiles striking the warehouse and trucks over a two-hour period. They said they heard aircraft and that among the blasts were barrel bombs, which are dropped from government helicopters. The rebels have no aircraft.

Video taken by a local activist shows part of the attack, with a missile streaking down from the night sky, causing a huge explosion and ball of fire. The sound of aircraft overhead is clearly heard. Other footage shows buildings in flame and burned bodies, as well as piles of aid supplies.

The witnesses at the scene included rescue workers and paramedics, as well as the brother of the head of the Red Crescent, who was killed in the attack.

The top U.S. military officer, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate committee Thursday he believes Russia bombed the convoy and said Syrian and Russian aircraft were in the area at the time.

ASSAD: He said "even the United Nations said that there were no airstrikes against that convoy."

FACTS: The U.N. has not said it was not an airstrike. "We are not saying what it was. We are saying that we are not in a position to determine the exact nature of the attack," Jens Laerke, deputy spokesman for the U.N. humanitarian agency, said Thursday,

ASSAD: He said that in the years of conflict, no international organization or aid convoy has come under attack.

FACTS: Syria is one of the world's most dangerous zones for aid workers. At least 54 Red Crescent volunteers have been killed in Syria. Aid groups and international convoys have reported coming under fire, both from government forces and rebels.

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