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French, German Leaders Lambaste Putin, Eye Sanctions Over Syria

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (center, facing away), Russian President Vladimir Putin (left to right), Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, and French President Francois Hollande met in Berlin on the crises in Ukraine and Syria.

The leaders of France and Germany, after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, lambasted Moscow for its bombardment of Syria and refused to rule out imposing sanctions on Russia.

"What is happening in Aleppo is a war crime. One of the first demands is that the bombardments by the regime and its [Russian] backers must end," French President Francois Hollande said after an hourlong meeting between the three leaders in Berlin on October 20 that occurred after a five-hour meeting on pushing for peace in Ukraine.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the air raids on Syria's largest city as "inhumane and cruel." She described the talks with Putin on Syria as "very hard."

"We are talking here about criminal activities, about crimes against the civilians," Merkel said.

Both leaders warned that they would not rule out imposing sanctions on Russia, hours ahead of an European Union summit where Russia's role in Syria is set to be discussed.

"Everything that can constitute a threat can be useful," Hollande said, while Merkel added that "we cannot remove this option."

Turning to a planned cease-fire Russia and Syria announced for the city of Aleppo on October 20, Hollande said that Putin appeared to be ready to extend the truce, set to last for 11 hours.

"We came out of the meeting with the impression that there could be an extension of the truce, but it's up to the Syrian regime and Russia to show it," he said.

A truce of just a few hours would not be enough to deliver the necessary humanitarian aid and allow civilians to leave the area, Hollande said.

Putin said after the meeting that Russia was willing to halt air strikes on Aleppo indefinitely.

"We informed them of our intention to continue, as much as possible, considering the situation on Syrian territory, a pause in the air strikes," he said. "We are ready to do this for as long as there are no clashes with rebel formations entrenched in Aleppo."

The Syrian Army separately said that the cease-fire would last three days.

Putin said he also offered to speed up work on a new constitution for Syria under which elections would be held to possibly replace the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The European leaders did not appear to pick up on the proposal.

Eastern Aleppo, held by rebels determined to oust Assad, has come under heavy bombardment since a tentative cease-fire deal set to cover the city broke down earlier this month.

Air strikes there have flattened numerous residential buildings and civilian facilities, and caused hundreds of deaths.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters
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