24th Mar 2018

Aleppo envoy left gloomy by EU summit

  • Brita Haj Hassan in the EU leaders meeting room prior to briefing them about the crisis in Aleppo

A dejected senior city official from Aleppo smoked on a cigarette and briefly glanced towards the EU summit building in Brussels where EU leaders have gathered.

Thousands of kilometres away from his home city, besieged by the Syrian regime with Russian support, Brita Haj Hassan, who is president of eastern Aleppo’s city council, did not find the help he expected.

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"The war crimes that have been committed, the crimes against humanity, are also in truth crimes that have killed what we call the international role," he told reporters on Thursday (15 December).

Hassan spoke on a sidewalk nearby the EU summit building.

He had earlier met with EU council chief Donald Tusk and had been invited by French president Francois Hollande to address the 28 EU leaders at the start of their meeting.

Tusk had told Hassan and press that the EU offered its support, but that it was confronted with "global limitations and problems". Tusk did not go into detail.

"Our main goal today is to protect, as effectively as possible, your civilians in Aleppo. Please believe me, no one is indifferent in the EU," Tusk said.

Other priorities

Declarations aside, the EU and member states, in truth, appear to have other priorities.

Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel made no mention of Syria when queried about the day's top discussion points.

Syria is listed as the final point in a nine-page draft summit communique, which outlines the joint position of all EU states. "The EU is considering all available options," notes the paper.

Hollande pushed the Germans into also issuing a separate declaration after meeting Merkel in Berlin on Monday.

The declaration, according to one EU diplomat, will demand a total ceasefire in Aleppo and protection of the city's besieged hospitals. Access to humanitarian relief and medical supplies will also be demanded.

"In the hours ahead, if these efforts are not made, I'm telling you, the regimes that back [Syrian leader] Bashar al-Assad will be responsible for the extremely awful situation of the population," said Hollande before the meeting.

War crimes

Hassan had come to Brussels to pressure EU leaders into discussing Syria, to get people to monitor the evacuation on the ground, and to hold the regime accountable for war crimes.

"The most important demand nowadays is to rescue and save the lives of these 50,000 people in eastern Aleppo, and after this to put an end to the war crimes committed by the regime," he said.

Government forces loyal to Assad earlier in the week cleared the rebel stronghold in the city. The UN has since reported summary executions of civilians in the former enclave in the lead up to an evacuation now taking place.

Hassan said four people had been shot and wounded by snipers during the evacuation, however, including two volunteers from the White Helmets civil defence group.

"The first convoy had been stopped and had to return to eastern Aleppo because it was subject to fire," he said.

"The truth is that the ceasefire is not really in place on the ground."

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