March 4, 2016 / 12:05 PM / 2 years ago

Europe leaders tell Putin Syria truce must hold to spur peace talks: Cameron

LONDON (Reuters) - European leaders told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday that a fragile truce in Syria must be used to try to secure a lasting peace without President Bashar al-Assad, the spokeswoman for British Prime Minister David Cameron said.

A damaged tank is pictured in the rebel-controlled area of Jobar, a suburb of Damascus, Syria March 3, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi told Putin in a phone call that the cessation of hostilities must hold to try to settle a conflict that has killed more than 250,000 people and created a refugee crisis.

“The main point that the European leaders made on the call to Putin was that we welcome the fact that this fragile truce appears to be holding,” the spokeswoman told reporters.

“(And) we have got to use this as a positive dynamic now to create some momentum behind the talks ... so we can move from a truce into a more lasting, durable peace with a political transition away from Assad.”

Asked how Putin had responded, the spokeswoman said there was no detailed discussion on the Syrian president.

“We all know this is one of the trickiest points,” she said, adding that Cameron “underlined the importance of a transition away from Assad to a government that ... can be fully representative of communities across Syria.”

“I think where we are at, for the purpose of today’s call, was to make sure that this truce can hold so that these talks can get under way in Geneva next week.”

U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura plans to resume talks with the Syrian government and opposition parties on March 9. But the format for the indirect talks is flexible and some parties could turn up days later, he has said.

European leaders have been calling on Moscow to stop supporting advances by the Syrian government on Western-backed rebels that they say will be key players in any peace deal.

“There was a very clear message from the European leaders of the need to make sure that civilians are not being targeted or bombed and that we need the truce to hold,” the spokeswoman said.

She said that Putin had agreed the truce must last.

“He made clear that they want to ensure compliance with the cessation of hostilities and make sure it lasts.”

Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; editing by Kate Holton and Estelle Shirbon

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