February 23, 2018 / 5:04 PM / 4 months ago

France and Germany ask Putin to stop Syria attacks, hope for ceasefire

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron hoped world powers would agree a Syria ceasefire on Friday after they asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to back a corresponding U.N. Security Council resolution.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev attend a wreath laying ceremony to mark the Defender of the Fatherland Day at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin wall in central Moscow, Russia February 23, 2018. Sputnik/Dmitry Astakhov/Pool via REUTERS

The two European Union leaders appealed to Putin — whose military intervention in Syria gave President Bashar al-Assad the upper hand in the seven-year-old conflict — to stop bombardments of the rebel-held pocket of eastern Ghouta.

Warplanes from Assad’s government forces and their allies pounded the densely populated enclave east of the capital Damascus for a sixth straight day on Friday.

“France and Germany call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and the implementation of a ceasefire to provide civilian support, humanitarian access and medical evacuation, as called for by the UN,” the two governments said.

“France and Germany call on Russia to shoulder its responsibilities in this regard,” they said in a joint statement as Macron and Merkel met other EU leaders for talks in Brussels.

Following the meeting, EU leaders’ chairman, Donald Tusk told reporters: “The Assad regime is brutally attacking innocent men, women and children. Its backers, Russia and Iran, are allowing this to happen.”

He urged them to stop the violence. The EU called for an immediate ceasefire, urgent humanitarian access to and protection of civilians, he said.

Diplomatic sources told Reuters Merkel and Macron - who both said they hoped the ceasefire would be agreed - were also due to call Putin together after the vote in New York, which had been delayed.

Moscow, which has the power to veto U.N. Security Council resolutions, has often in the past blocked texts that would be damaging to Assad. Russia said on Friday it was ready to support the draft resolution, but with caveats.

“There are no guarantees that (the rebels) will not continue shooting at Damascus residential areas,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in a briefing.

“That’s why for the resolution to be efficient — and we are ready to agree on the text which would make it so — we propose a formula which would make the ceasefire real, based on the guarantees of all who are inside eastern Ghouta and outside eastern Ghouta,” Lavrov said.

The EU as a whole has only played a marginal role in the international diplomacy around the conflict in Syria, where the multi-sided war has killed hundreads of thousands and driven millions from their homes.

The bloc is trying to leverage its role as the world’s top aid donor to woo Assad back into the stalled U.N. peace talks, which have achieved little over the years.

The talks are now deadlocked as Damascus, Moscow and their other ally Tehran attempt a final push to re-establish Assad’s rule.

Additional reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel, Philip Blenkinsop, Robert-Jan Bartunek, Andreas Rinke and Jean-Baptiste Vey, Editing by Angus MacSwan

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