EU says Syria war ‘ongoing’ despite Russia pullout
BRUSSELS - The European Union warned Monday that the war in Syria was "still ongoing" and civilians were being attacked, after President Vladimir Putin announced the partial withdrawal of Russian troops, saying their work was largely done.
Putin made the announcement on a surprise visit to Syria, where Russian forces first intervened in the conflict in 2015 to support its ally President Bashar al-Assad, targeting the Islamic State group and other jihadists as well as rebels fighting government troops.
EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said the bloc was ready to do whatever was needed to support UN-brokered peace efforts, but warned the idea that "things can go back to normal unfortunately has no real ground".
"Conflict is still ongoing, even if some wish to pretend it is over," she told reporters in Brussels.
"We know very well that on the ground fighting is still going on, civilians are still attacked and we see that with our humanitarian support every single day inside Syria."
She said the EU was ready to offer economic support to Syria, but this could only come after a political agreement was reached at UN talks in Geneva.
A fresh round of Syrian peace talks is scheduled for next week in Astana, Kazakhstan, as part of a Moscow-led push to end the six-year conflict, focusing on freeing prisoners, delivering humanitarian aid, de-escalation zones and other issues.
More than 340,000 people have been killed since the conflict broke out in March 2011 when protests against Assad's rule sparked a brutal crackdown.