At EU summit, Merkel and Macron call Putin over Syria crisis

Merkel and Macron in a Council meeting room on 20 February 2020. [@GermanyintheEU Twitter]

The leaders of Germany and France called Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday (20 February) to express their concern about the humanitarian situation in Syria’s Idlib region, expressing their readiness to meet in an effort to defuse the conflict.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke together by phone with the Russian leader on the sidelines of an EU summit in Brussels devoted to the Union’s next long-term budget.

Syrian aid workers are urging a ceasefire and international help for nearly a million people fleeing the regime’s onslaught in Idlib – the biggest wave of displaced civilians in the conflict.

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According to a communiqué by the website of the French President, Macron and Merkel have insisted on alerting Putin on the humanitarian situation affecting the civilian population in the Idlib province. They called for an immediate cessation of hostilities and for facilitating access to humanitarian aid for people in need.

The leaders of the EU’s two largest countries also expressed their readiness “to meet quickly with President Putin and [Turkish] President Erdogan in order to find a political solution to the crisis”.

The Kremlin says particular attention was paid during the call to resolving the Syrian crisis “in the context of […] aggressive actions by extremist groups against the Syrian government forces and civilians”.

Putin called for effective measures to neutralise “the terrorist threat”, while Macron and Merkel expressed “their willingness to help reduce tension in northwestern Syria,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

Merkel, Macron and Putin also discussed the crisis in Libya, Moscow said. But no mention is made in the Russian readout of an upcoming meeting between the three leaders.

Later in the night, on Friday, the EU’s 27 leaders condemned Syrian government attacks on the city of Idlib, the country’s last rebel enclave, warning of a humanitarian disaster there.

“The renewed military offensive in Idlib by the Syrian regime and its backers, causing enormous human suffering, is unacceptable,” said a statement by the European Council, which represents the EU’s 27 member states.

“The EU urges all parties to the conflict to fully respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law and to allow unimpeded and direct humanitarian access to all those in need,” the statement added.

As he arrived in Brussels for the summit, Macron said events in northwest Syria could not be ignored.

“For weeks one of the worst humanitarian dramas has been unfolding,” Macron said.

“I wish to condemn in the strongest terms the military attacks carried out for several weeks by Bashar al-Assad’s regime against the civilian population of Idlib,” he added.

The French President called on the UN Security Council, in which France sits as a permanent member, to “take responsibility” after Russia blocked a statement calling for a ceasefire.

According to the UN, 900,000 people in the region have been displaced in “horrendous conditions” since 1 December, more than 500,000 of them children.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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