“Hell on earth”: MEPs debate Aleppo and role of Russia in Syria conflict 

The old city of Homs in Syria has been destroyed by years of conflict  

With the collapse of a US-Russia brokered ceasefire last month, the war in Syria looks as intractable as ever and violence has escalated in the past fortnight. During a plenary debate on Wednesday afternoon several MEPs criticised Russia’s involvement in the conflict with others calling for the EU to play a greater role in resolving the crisis.

The conflict in Syria is well into its sixth year and has claimed the lives of more than a quarter of a million people. Up to 14 million people are thought to be in need of humanitarian assistance within Syria while almost five million are in hard to reach or besieged areas.

Despite international efforts to reach a ceasefire, violence has escalated in recent weeks with Aleppo in particular facing heavy bombardments. According to Médecins Sans Frontières four of the remaining eight functional hospitals in eastern Aleppo have been damaged by bombing in recent days.

In a debate at the Parliament on 5 October MEPs called for an end to the unacceptable violence with many laying the blame squarely on Russia and Assad. Cristian Dan Preda (EPP, Romania) said of Russia: “This country has never been committed to fighting terrorism. Putin has simply stood by his friend Assad.” He urged the EU to intensify diplomatic efforts in cooperation with the US.

Gianni Pittella (S&D, Italy) called the ongoing crisis in Syria a humanitarian crime: “The EU, alongside the UN, needs to put in force everything they have available in order to stop this massacre, to get a ceasefire and to carry on with negotiations. This needs to be done now because the bombings are happening now!”

Charles Tannock (ECR, United Kingdom) said: “After five and a half years of indecisiveness in the west perhaps a de-facto partition of Syria is now the only hope for peace."

Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE, Belgium) also condemned Russia’s bombing of Aleppo and called for the EU and US to join forces in delivering a common initiative on Syria, including a no-fly zone over Aleppo and sanctions against Russia and Assad for violating UN resolutions.

Marisa Matias (GUE/NGL, Portugal) noted while the EU must do everything in its power to work against terrorist actors, the first priority should be “to properly address the victims and the humanitarian tragedy”.

Rebecca Harms (Greens/EFA, Germany) was one of many members laying the blame on Russia: “Aleppo is the place where Putin and Assad have created hell on earth.”

Fabio Massimo Castaldo (EFDD, Italy) accused the EU of being absent from efforts in reaching a solution to the crisis: “As Syria is in our neighbourhood we are the first to see the impact of a lack of stability there. We need to take our role in foreign affairs.”

Mario Borghezio (ENF, Italy) said: "Europe's not there, they're not aware of what's happening. I doubt the US can do anything. Perhaps we should be aware that only Russia is working here.”

Eleftherios Synadinos (non-aligned, Greece) said the only solution was to “work with Russia and fight against Daesh”. He accused the EU of hypocrisy in its response to the crisis.

Slovak minister Ivan Korčok spoke on behalf of his country’s presidency of the Council: “We need to convince all actors that a political solution is the only option ahead of us. No side will win this war on the field. In these times of despair for the Syrians, we must not lose hope in a political process.”

The Syrian crisis is the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. The EU is the leading donor in the international response to the conflict with more than €6.8 billion in aid from the EU and its member states,. The number of Syrian refugees outside Syria now amounts to almost five million, with most in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, where one quarter of the population are now refugees.