Germany joined the U.S. and Britain in weighing fresh sanctions against the Syrian and Russian governments over the bombardment of Aleppo.
The German government signaled a shift in favor of exploring penalties on Monday after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson all but ruled out a military response to end the siege in the Syrian city, where some 250,000 people remain trapped in the rebel-held east.
"I don't see a big appetite in Europe for people to go to war; we are pursuing diplomacy because those are the tools that we have," Kerry told reporters following talks in London on Sunday. "We are considering additional sanctions. President Obama has not taken any option off the table. We'll see where we are in the next few weeks."
The west has accused Russia of carrying out the indiscriminate aerial bombing of civilians in Aleppo in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces. While countries such as Italy have urged caution, Kerry's comments and Germany's response suggest that pressure is mounting to add to the punitive measures put in place after Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Without naming Russia specifically, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said the "merciless" bombardment of the civilian population of Aleppo by Assad's forces wouldn't be possible without their backers. While efforts to implement a cease-fire remain the priority for Germany, "there is a shared responsibility" for the destruction, Seibert told reporters in Berlin.
Citing "the continued escalation of these war atrocities, as well as war crimes," Seibert said that "all options must be considered, including against those who undertake as well as enable these attacks."
EU foreign ministers are discussing Syria at a meeting in Luxembourg, with the bloc's 28 leaders due to deliberate sanctions when they meet in Brussels on Oct. 20, according to a French government official with knowledge of the discussions. No decisions on additional penalties are expected at the summit, the official said.
Sunday's meeting included representatives from France, Germany, Italy, Turkey and Middle Eastern allies. It followed talks Saturday in Lausanne, Switzerland, involving Russia. Those discussions ended without result amid a warning from Moscow that the risk of conflict is increasing between the two former Cold War rivals.
President Vladimir Putin said this month that Russia won't give in to "blackmail and pressure" over its military campaign in Syria and accused the U.S. and its allies of whipping up "anti-Russian hysteria."
Johnson urged Russia to "do the right thing by humanity" and end the "barbaric siege" of Aleppo. "This is their chance to go for a solution that will be in the longer-term interest of the people of Russia and, above all, Syria," he said. "They are starting to feel the pressure and it is vital that we keep that pressure up."
Potential additional sanctions were among "a large list of ideas, proposals" under consideration, Johnson said. Neither he nor Kerry gave details on which individuals or groups could be targeted in a new round, and Johnson said the proposals wouldn't amount to "some magic solution."
Separately, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the northern town of Dabiq had been wrested from Islamic State control by Syrian opposition forces backed by Turkey and the international coalition. Dabiq held symbolic importance to the jihadist group, Carter said in a statement on Sunday.
"The group carried out unspeakable atrocities in Dabiq, named its English-language magazine after the town, and claimed it would be the site of a final victory for the so-called caliphate," Carter said. "Instead, its liberation gives the campaign to deliver ISIL a lasting defeat new momentum in Syria."
With assistance from Bloomberg's Helene Fouquet and John Follain