UPDATE - Germany looks to step up pressure on Russia over Syria

Merkel’s spokesman says Moscow should stop blocking UN resolutions, use its influence on Syrian regime on chemical weapons


By Yusuf Hatip and Ayhan Simsek

BRUSSELS/BERLIN (AA) – Germany on Friday called for stepped-up pressure on Moscow to wield its influence on the Syrian regime over the use of chemical weapons.

Speaking at a press conference in Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said there were strong indications that the Assad regime had indeed used chemical weapons in Douma last week, and underlined that the use of such weapons should not go unpunished.

Criticizing Russia for blocking UN Security Council efforts to investigate the chemical attack, he called on Western partners to step up pressure on Moscow.

“Several countries are also pondering other options, but all are making their contribution now for increasing the political pressure and making it very clear that the use of chemical weapons will not go unpunished,” he stressed.

Russia on Tuesday vetoed a U.S.-drafted resolution at the Security Council which envisaged setting up a new expert body to determine culpability for the suspected chemical attack in Douma.

Last Saturday Assad regime forces struck targets in the Damascus suburb’s Douma district using a poisonous gas which killed 78 civilians and injured hundreds of others, according to the White Helmets civil defense.

U.S. President Donald Trump signaled early this week possible military intervention in Syria, and received backing from the leaders of the U.K. and France.

Seibert reaffirmed that Germany will not take part in a possible military action on the Syrian regime, but underlined that Berlin is in close contact with Washington, London, and Paris.

-‘Russia should change its behavior’

Speaking to reporters in Brussels, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas urged Moscow to change its behavior.

“The Russians are protecting Assad. We can’t go on like this,” he told a joint press conference with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

“So we’re keeping up the political pressure on Russia and we would like to increase it further. Having Russia change its behavior is a must for solving the Syria issue," he added.

Maas said Germany was in touch with France on the chemical attack in Douma.

“Repeated and illegal use of chemical weapons should not be left unanswered,” he said.

Maas also said since the issue in Syria cannot be resolved without Russia, they have not cut off contact.

On Feb. 24, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2401 which called for a month-long cease-fire in Syria, especially in Eastern Ghouta, to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Despite the resolution, the regime and its allies launched a major ground offensive early this month backed by Russian air power aimed at capturing opposition-held parts of Eastern Ghouta.

Home to some 400,000 people, the suburb has remained the target of a crippling regime siege for the last five years.

Earlier this month, a UN commission of inquiry released a report accusing the regime of committing war crimes in Eastern Ghouta, including the use of chemical weapons against civilians.

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