Russia says U.S. drone was in area where U.N. convoy was struck in Syria

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Russian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that a U.S. Predator drone was in the area where a U.N. aid convoy was partially destroyed in Syria on Monday and had appeared on the scene minutes before the incident.

Major-General Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the ministry, said the drone had taken off from the Incirlik air base in Turkey, arrived in the area a few minutes before the convoy had caught fire, and left about 30 minutes later.

He noted that such drones were armed with air-to-ground missiles.

“Only the drone’s owners know what it was doing there at the necessary moment and what tasks it was carrying out,” Konashenkov said in a statement, saying Russia was not drawing any conclusions about the drone’s presence.

Konashenkov repeated denials of any Russian involvement in the episode and said Western allegations that Moscow was directly or indirectly responsible were an attempt to distract attention from the U.S.-led coalition’s deadly bombing of Syrian soldiers near Deir al-Zor airport on Saturday.

Russian planes were not in the area at the time and had not made any air strikes there, he said, saying Moscow had informed the United States of that the same evening as the incident took place.

Reporting by Andrew Osborn and Lidia Kelly; Editing by Christian Lowe