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Airstrike kills five in international mobile medical team in northern Syria

The Paris-based International Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM) said the attack Tuesday night leveled a mobile medical unit near Aleppo. The attack follows a Monday night airstrike on a Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid convoy.

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    This image provided by the Syrian anti-government group Aleppo 24 news, shows a vest of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent hanging on a damaged vehicle, in Aleppo, Syria, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. A U.N. humanitarian aid convoy in Syria was hit by airstrikes Monday. On Tuesday, an mobile medical unit near Aleppo was struck, killing five.
    (Aleppo 24 news via AP)
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An airstrike in northern Syria that killed five members of medical staff hit a mobile emergency unit and not a medical facility, a relief organization said Wednesday.

The mobile medical team was hit while responding to an earlier airstrike targeting militants from the Al Qaeda-linked Fatah al-Sham Front, Dr. Oubaida Al Moufti, vice president of the International Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations said.

The organization, known by its French initials UOSSM, had initially said that the Tuesday night strike leveled a medical triage point it operates in rebel-held territory outside the contested city of Aleppo.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said at least 13 people were killed in the attack, including nine militants, some of them belonging to the Fatah al-Sham Front.

Three nurses and two ambulance drivers died of their injuries, UOSSM said.

There were no reports on who was behind the strike.

The strike follows a Monday night airstrike on a Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid convoy that prompted international condemnation and recrimination over attacks targeting humanitarian facilities and workers. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the convoy strike as a "sickening, savage and apparently deliberate attack." The convoy was carrying aid materials from the U.N.

The incident exposed rising tensions between the two architects of Syria's cease-fire deal, Russia and the U.S. The U.S. said it believed Russian or Syrian government jets were behind the attack that killed 20 civilians.

The White House insisted it was either Russia or Syria. White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said either way, the U.S. held Russia responsible, because it was Russia's job under the week-old cease-fire to prevent Syria's air force from striking in areas where humanitarian aid was being transported.

"All of our information indicates clearly that this was an airstrike," Rhodes said, rejecting the claim by Russia's Defense Ministry that a cargo fire caused the damage. Both Russia and Syria have denied carrying out the bombing. 

Syria's rebels do not operate an air force.

Within one minute of the strike, the US tracked a Russian-made Su-24 directly over the region of the attack, US. officials said. Even that revelation failed to definitively implicate Russia because both the Russian and Syrian air forces fly the Su-24, although the U.S. officials said there were strong indications that the jet was flown by the Russian military.

In New York on Tuesday, Russian and U.S. diplomats insisted that the Syrian cease-fire, which went into effect nine days ago, was not dead, despite indications of soaring violence. The Syrian military declared Monday night the truce had expired, shortly before presumed Russian or Syrian government jets launched a sustained aerial attack on Aleppo's opposition-held neighborhoods.

The cease-fire was intended in part to allow humanitarian convoys to reach besieged and hard-to-reach areas throughout Syria. Yet following the convoy attack, the U.N. suspended overland aid operations to hard-to-reach areas in Syria. Syrians living in opposition areas will be disproportionately affected because the U.N.'s major warehouses are located in government-held areas. The U.N. estimates 6 million Syrians live in besieged and hard-to-reach areas.

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Associated press writer Jeffrey Schaeffer in Paris contributed to this report.

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