EU leaders demand Russia, Assad halt attacks on rebels

 Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a meeting on Oct 20, 2015.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a meeting on Oct 20, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

BRUSSELS (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE) - European Union leaders will demand at a summit that Russia and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, its long-term ally, immediately halt attacks on moderate opposition groups and bolster peace efforts, according to a draft document.

The 28 EU leaders were due to issue the appeal after the two-day meeting in Brussels amid efforts to implement an agreement reached by world powers in Munich last week to cease hostilities and ramp up humanitarian access.

"The European Council calls on Russia and the Syrian regime to stop at once attacking moderate opposition groups, which threatens the prospects for peace, benefits Daesh and drives the refugee crisis," the council said in a leaked draft document.

The council, which gathers the 28 EU leaders, is concerned that Russian military support for Assad is undermining US-led efforts to quash Daesh, or the Islamic State group, and is fuelling the worst migrant crisis in Europe since World War II.

"The European Council is concerned by the risk of further military escalation and condemns the repeated bombing of civilian infrastructure, and calls for an immediate cessation of aerial bombardments in civilian areas," it said.

"The implementation of it should jointly be verified by the relevant parties," it added.

"The council urges all sides to refrain from escalating the dire humanitarian situation and recalls that unhindered humanitarian access to those in need must be guaranteed, including in the besieged areas," it said.

A ceasefire based on the Munich deal is due to come into effect on Friday, but prospects of a lasting truce appear weak as a Russian-backed regime offensive around the second city, Aleppo, has forced tens of thousands from their homes this month. Almost half a million people in Syria are in areas under siege, according to the United Nations. The council leader called for implementing swiftly the terms of the Munich deal.