EU threatens Russia with sanctions over Syria
BRUSSELSEuropean Union leaders warned Russia at a summit on Oct. 20 that they will consider sanctions over its role in the Syrian conflict if Moscow does not stop “crimes” in the devastated city of Aleppo, as a “humanitarian pause” the Syrian army’s Russian-backed assault on Aleppo took effect.
As the bloc’s 28 leaders met in Brussels for a crucial discussion on their future strategy to deal with Moscow, EU President Donald Tusk said they should “keep all options open, including sanctions.”
The leaders of France and Germany had given a similar sanctions warning after holding talks in Berlin with President Vladimir Putin on the eve of the Brussels summit.
A draft summit statement said the EU was weighing sanctions against supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime if they fail to stop atrocities, although it did not mention Russia by name.
“The EU should keep all options open, including sanctions if the crimes continue,” Tusk said as he arrived for the summit.
British Prime Minister Theresa May, arriving for her first EU summit since the June Brexit vote, called for a united European approach to “sickening atrocities” in Syria.
“We must show a robust and united European stance in the face of Russian aggression,” May told reporters. “It is vital that we work together to continue to put pressure on Russia to stop its appalling atrocities, its sickening atrocities in Syria.”
Syria army urges residents to quit Aleppo as ceasefire begins
The unilateral ceasefire began at 8:00 am (5:00 a.m. GMT) and was to last at least 11 hours, with the aim of allowing civilians and fighters to evacuate the city’s opposition-controlled east.
Gunfire and artillery exchanges erupted around a crossing point near the rebel-controlled Bustan al-Qasr district shortly after the pause began, an AFP correspondent said.
State news agency SANA said “terrorist groups” had targeted the area around the corridor with rocket, machinegun and sniper fire “in an attempt to hinder the humanitarian pause.”
But by afternoon, the clashes had subsided and the east was calm, though the streets were empty.
The U.N. said Russia had pledged to extend the truce until the night of Oct. 22 and the Syrian army had earlier said it would last three days.
On Oct. 20 its soldiers were calling through loudspeakers for residents to “seize the chance” to evacuate.
The U.N. said it hoped to carry out the first medical evacuations from Aleppo on Oct. 21, after getting clearance from all warring parties.