Merkel says 'horrified' by Russian bombings in Syria

ANKARA, Turkey -- Turkey and Germany agreed on Monday on a set of measures to deal with the Syrian refugee crisis, including a joint diplomatic initiative aiming to halt attacks against Syria's largest city.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after talks with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu that she is "not just appalled but horrified" by the suffering caused by Russian bombing in Syria.

Merkel said that Turkey and Germany will push at the United Nations for everyone to keep to a UN resolution passed in December that calls on all sides to halt without delay attacks on the civilian population.

She said: "We have been, in the past few days, not just appalled but horrified by what has been caused in the way of human suffering for tens of thousands of people by bombing -- primarily from the Russian side."

"Under such circumstances, it's hard for peace talks to take place, and so this situation must be brought to an end quickly," Merkel said.

Davutoglu said the city of Aleppo "is de facto under siege. We are on the verge of a new human tragedy."

Turkey is facing pressure from the EU to open its border to up to 35,000 Syrians who have massed along the frontier in the past few days fleeing an onslaught by government forces.

Merkel was in Ankara for talks on how to reduce the influx of migrants into Europe. Turkey's coast guard said Monday that 22 migrants died after their boat capsized in the Bay of Edremit, while four people were rescued. Further south, 11 people died in a separate boat accident, according to the private Dogan news agency.

The coast guard has launched a search-and-rescue mission, including helicopters, to try to find 14 migrants who are reported to be missing.

The International Organization for Migration says 374 refugees and other migrants have died so far this year while trying to reach Greece. Turkey, a key country on their route to Europe, is central to Merkel's diplomatic efforts to reduce the flow. Germany saw an unprecedented 1.1 million asylum seekers arrive last year, many of them fleeing the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Davutoglu said the two countries' security forces would increase efforts to thwart illegal migration and combat smuggling groups.

The two leaders would also be trying to get NATO's involvement in the refugee issue, Davutoglu said. He said they would seek the use of NATO's observation capabilities at the border with Syria and in the Aegean Sea.

He said the two countries' aid organizations will co-operate in providing aid to the Syrians at the border.

Turkey, already home to 2.5 million Syrian refugees, says it has reached its capacity to absorb refugees but has indicated that it will continue to provide refuge.

Turkey agreed in November to fight smuggling networks and help curb irregular migration. In return, the EU has pledged 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) to help improve the condition of refugees, and to grant political concessions to Turkey, including an easing of visa restrictions and the fast-tracking of its EU membership process.

Turkey has since started to require Syrians arriving from third countries to apply for visas, in a bid to exclude those who aim to continue on to Greece.

Turkey has also agreed to grant work permits to Syrians as an incentive for them to stay in Turkey, and has announced plans to increase coast guards' capabilities and designate human smuggling as a form of organized crime -- which would bring stiffer punishments.

Moulson reported from Berlin



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