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Chancellor Angela Merkel to host Putin, Hollande, Poroshenko for talks in Berlin

A day before a brief ceasefire is scheduled for Aleppo, Chancellor Merkel hosts Russian President Vladimir Putin for talks on Syria and Ukraine. The French and Ukrainian leaders will also be present.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted expectations were low ahead of Wednesday's meeting in Berlin with the leaders of Russia, France and Ukraine.

Merkel said the talks were aimed at "offering a brutally honest assessment " of progress on implementing the Minsk peace accords for Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Francois Hollande and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko were due to attend Wednesday's meeting. Putin has not visited the German capital since Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

"Things are stalled in many areas such as the ceasefire, political issues and humanitarian issues," Merkel told reporters ahead of the talks. "We have to seize every chance we have for progress. I have to say that we cannot expect a miracle but it is worth every effort at this point."

Hours before the planned meeting, the Kremlin said they "do not expect any breakthroughs" in Berlin.

Syria concerns

Russia's involvement in the Syrian civil war is also to feature at the top of the agenda. Merkel spoke of the "disastrous" situation in the besieged city of Aleppo. She said she and the French president would speak to Putin "about somehow alleviating people's suffering." 

"Here too, we cannot expect miracles but it is essential to talk, even if the views are far apart," Merkel said. 

One of Hollande's aides summed up the message he hoped would reach Putin during the meeting: the need for a "durable ceasefire in Aleppo and humanitarian access so that the devastation of this city can end."

The east of Aleppo, Syria's largest city, is being held by rebels who oppose the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. The regime's military, backed by Russia, has heavily bombed the city in an attempt to wrest control from the rebels.

In an interview with a Swiss TV station recorded on Tuesday, al Assad said government forces had to rid the city of "terrorists" under its constitutional mandate. "That's our mission, according to the constitution,
according to the law, that we have to protect people, that we have to get rid of those terrorists from Aleppo," he said. "We need to attack the terrorists, that's self-evident."

Civilian toll

The civilian toll of the bombardment of Aleppo is high, with an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 people trapped in the eastern part of the city. Food supplies are dwindling and medical care is very limited. A number of Western governments have raised calls for investigations into war crimes after hospitals were targeted in recent airstrikes.

A truce of eight hours is scheduled for Thursday, aimed at providing humanitarian relief. A relief corridor for people to leave the city is also being discussed, but it is uncertain if this would be monitored by Russia and the Syrian regime or representatives from the United Nations. Bombing attacks on Aleppo have been halted in the run-up to the ceasefire.

The UN has previously said that people in eastern Aleppo were afraid of leaving the city through the government-designated safe passages, noting that Syrian army units were stationed at the crossings.

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'Goodwill gesture'

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has said that the halt in the airstrikes came as a goodwill gesture, saying he hoped "that our partners will allow us all to take advantage of that."

Russian and Syrian officials embraced a proposal made earlier this month by the UN Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura, to allow al-Qaida-linked militants to leave Aleppo in exchange for a truce. De Mistura said earlier that east Aleppo might face complete destruction by the end of the year in the absence of a ceasefire.

Rebels and many residents have repeatedly rejected the plan.

mz/jm (AFP, dpa)

 

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