BERLIN – Russian President Vladimir Putin held out the hope of an indefinite halt to his country's airstrikes on Aleppo after meeting with the French and German leaders, who condemned Moscow's actions in the Syrian city.
Russia had promised an eight-hour pause on Thursday in attacks on the city by Syrian government forces under the cover of Russian air power in order to allow suffering civilians to leave and to give rebels safe passage.
"We informed them of our intention to continue, as much as possible, considering the situation on Syrian territory, a pause in the air strikes. We are ready to do this for as long as there are no clashes with rebel formations entrenched in Aleppo," Putin said after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande in Berlin.
Hollande, speaking separately after the meeting, said: "I can't put myself in his (Putin's) place but what I understood was that he would go beyond the eight hours announced."
Merkel and Hollande strongly criticized the Russian and Syrian government airstrikes on Aleppo, and Hollande said that "what is happening in Aleppo is truly a war crime."
"The first demand is an end to the bombing ... by the regime and Russian planes," Hollande said.
Merkel described the talks on Syria as "very hard."
Asked about the possibility of sanctions against Russia over Syria, both leaders indicated that they remain an option.
"We can't deny ourselves the option but the priority has to be to help people," Merkel said.