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The European Union said Thursday that protecting civilians caught up in Syria’s crackdown on anti-government protests “is an increasingly urgent and important aspect” of responding to the bloodshed there.

But it stopped short of endorsing French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe’s call for EU-backed humanitarian corridors to allow aid groups a way in.

The bloc stands ready to engage with representatives of the Syrian opposition “who adhere to nonviolence and democratic values,” said Maja Kocijancic, an EU spokeswoman.

Juppe called the situation in Syria “no longer tenable” and accused the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad of “repression of a savagery we have not seen in a long time.”

Speaking on France-Inter radio Thursday, he said he was in contact with partners in the United Nations, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Arab League about the possibility of setting up the humanitarian corridors.

Juppe suggested that aid groups such as the Red Cross could use the corridors to bring medical supplies to cities such as Homs that have seen heavy bloodshed in Syria’s crackdown on an anti-government uprising.

Juppe first made the proposal after meeting with the leader of the opposition Syrian National Council on Wednesday.

Assad is under mounting worldwide pressure to end eight months of bloodshed in which nearly 4,000 people have been reported killed.

France, Syria’s one-time colonial ruler, was the first country to formally recognize Libya’s opposition early in Moammar Gadhafi’s crackdown on protests, and France played a prominent role in the NATO-led campaign of airstrikes against Gadhafi’s forces.

Last month, Russia and China vetoed a Western-backed U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the bloodshed in Syria. They have argued that NATO misused a previous U.N. measure authorizing the use of force to protect civilians in Libya to justify months of air strikes and to promote regime change.

They expressed fears that any new resolution against Syria might be used as a pretext for a similar armed intervention.

sfgate.com

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