December 15, 2016 / 4:47 PM / a year ago

Aleppo official pleads with EU as leaders urge full ceasefire

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A local official from devastated east Aleppo made a personal plea to European leaders on Thursday to prevent more bloodshed in Syria but EU governments were unable to go beyond fresh calls for a complete ceasefire.

Ambulances and buses evacuating people drive out of a rebel-held part of Aleppo, Syria December 15, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

Brita Hagi Hassan, head of the city council for the part of Aleppo once under rebel control, told EU leaders at a summit in Brussels that Europe must act to save lives, not stand by making statements.

“We are not waiting for press communiques and declarations, or meetings for the organization of other meetings,” Hassan, who has been outside of east Aleppo since the Russian-backed siege of rebel bastions this year, said after addressing leaders. “We want action.”

As an operation to evacuate thousands of civilians and fighters got underway from the last rebel strongholds in Aleppo on Thursday, the EU’s 28 governments prepared a joint statement calling for a lasting ceasefire and humanitarian corridors.

French President Francois Hollande said it was crucial that the summit demand “a ceasefire and the evacuation of all the civilians and eventually a political negotiation.”

“Europe must make its voice heard,” he told reporters.

Despite efforts to pressure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with sanctions and to isolate Russia diplomatically, the European Union saw its October offer of delivering humanitarian aid to east Aleppo ignored by Syrian officials.

British and French threats to impose EU sanctions on senior Russian officials have come to nothing, blocked by the Kremlin’s allies in the bloc Hungary, Greece and Cyprus, and also complicated by Italy’s strong business ties with Russia.

“The idea of international law has been killed in Aleppo. It has been killed in Syria… because of the desperate silence of the international community in the face of this crime,” Hassan said.

With no military role in the Syrian conflict, where Russia and Iran have played a decisive role in support of Assad, the EU has been largely sidelined.

The chair of the EU leaders’ summit Donald Tusk appeared to acknowledge that, telling Hassan in televised remarks: “The last thing your people in Aleppo need today is more words of sympathy. The only thing you need today is real and effective protection and assistance.”

The EU - the world’s largest aid donor - has said it will not pay for reconstruction Syria if Damascus and its allies wipe out any opposition and install a “fake peace” there.

Additional reporting by Christian Levaux and Temis Tormo; Editing by Noah Barkin

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