EU asks Russia to \'immediately\' halt strikes on moderate Syria rebels
LUXEMBOURG CITY - The EU demanded Monday the "immediate" halt of Russian air strikes against moderate Syrian rebel groups, adding that a lasting peace was impossible under Moscow-backed President Bashar al-Assad.
"The recent Russian military attacks that go beyond Daesh (Islamic State) and other UN-designated terrorist groups, as well as on the moderate opposition, are of deep concern and must cease immediately," the EU's 28 foreign ministers said in a statement.
The ministers, meeting in Luxembourg for talks dominated by the Syrian crisis, said Russia's military action only made the problem worse and weakened efforts to reach a peaceful solution.
"This military escalation risks prolonging the conflict, undermining a political process, aggravating the humanitarian situation and increasing radicalization," they said.
They urged Russia to "focus its efforts on the common objective of achieving a political solution to the conflict."
The statement comes ahead of a summit of EU leaders on Thursday where Syria will also be high on the agenda.
Ministers also said that as the crisis deepened, it became imperative to end a conflict which has claimed some 250,000 lives and driven some 12 million people -- half the population -- to flee their homes.
They said this required "a peaceful and inclusive transition" but it was not clear if Assad would have any role in it, perhaps reflecting sharp divisions over his immediate future.
For the longer term, ministers agreed he had no place in Syria.
"There cannot be a lasting peace in Syria under the present leadership," it added.
Meanwhile, Russia's air force hit 53 targets in Syria in the past 24 hours, the defence ministry said on Monday, as Moscow continues a bombing campaign it says is aimed against the Islamic State jihadist group.
Russian jets conducted strikes in the provinces of Hama, Homs, Latakia and Idlib and destroyed "terrorist" command posts, defensive positions, training camps and ammunition depots, the ministry said in a statement.
It said the bombing raids had severely disrupted supply chains for ISIS fighters.
"In recent days, the terrorists are making desperate attempts at smuggling ammunition, weapons, fuel and military materials from the Raqa province to the front line with the Syrian army," the ministry said.
"Strikes conducted by Russian warplanes have destroyed a considerable portion of their weapons, ammunition and fuel for military equipment."
The ministry had said Saturday that the strikes were demoralising fighters, who it claimed were abandoning combat positions and retreating to the east and northeast of Syria.
On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated at a press conference Moscow's readiness to work with Syria's main Western-backed opposition group, the Free Syrian Army, to find a political solution to the crisis.
President Vladimir Putin on Sunday said the goal of the Russian intervention was to "stabilise the legitimate authorities and create conditions for finding a political compromise".