SOFIA: The European Union on Thursday sought to revive stalled United Nations peace talks for Syria, worried by Russia's efforts to legitimise the grip on power of its ally, President Bashar al-Assad.
The U.N. talks in Geneva have made little or no progress during seven years of the war, before hitting a deadlock last December. Moscow has been promoting alternative peace talks in Astana with Turkey, which supports rebel groups in Syria.
Armed interventions by Russia and Iran have allowed Assad to recapture large parts of the country but the U.N. says February has seen some of the worst fighting in Syria since violence erupted in March 2011.
Even so, EU foreign ministers in Bulgaria are holding their first full discussion about Syria in almost a year.
"We'll discuss how to mobilise humanitarian support but also how to use the convening power of the European Union to support the U.N.-led political process that is facing difficult moments in these weeks," EU's top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, said.
Mogherini will host an international conference on Syria in Brussels in April, trying to support the ailing peace process and seeking more pledges of humanitarian aid - for Syrians in the country, as well as refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.
The EU's previous such event in 2017 got overshadowed by a chemical attack inside Syria. The conflict shows no signs of abating as powers in the region and beyond back rival forces in the proxy war. Now entering its eighth year, it has killed hundreds of thousands and driven millions from their homes.
"The tragedy continues," French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters. "It is important for the Geneva process to restart as quickly as possible and that we are in a phase of political transition, which is not the case at the moment."
The EU as a whole has played only a marginal role in efforts to resolve the conflict. It is trying, however, to leverage its status as the world's largest aid donor to have more sway. It has said it will not pay to help rebuild Syria if Moscow and Damascus crush Assad's opponent and ensure he holds on to power.
Assad's forces have lately bombarded two of the last major rebel areas in Syria in Eastern Ghouta and the northwestern province of Idlib.
The disastrous humanitarian conditions in the besieged areas prompted the U.N. Security Council to discuss a month-long ceasefire to allow the delivery of aid and the evacuation of sick and wounded.
Luxembourg's Jean Asselborn said the EU was supporting the Security Council draft resolution and added: "We have to be aware that nobody will solve this conflict with weapons ... we have to lead Syria into a transition."
(Additional reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek, Alissa de Carbonnel and Peter Maushagen, writing by Gabriela Baczynska, editing by Larry King)