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German minister urges Russia to cooperate in solving Syria crisis

Reuters

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Saturday urged Russia to help solve the Syria crisis as he set off for a meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) major industrialized nations in Toronto.

The Syrian conflict has badly damaged already strained relations between the West and Russia, which backs President Bashar al-Assad.

The United States, France and Britain conducted missile strikes against Syrian targets this month after a suspected chemical weapons attack that Assad and Moscow deny carrying out.

"We need constructive contributions from Russia to reach a peaceful solution," Maas told reporters before his flight, adding that this was equally true of the Ukraine conflict, which the G7 foreign ministers are also due to discuss.

Russia is not a member of the G7 and will not be taking part in the meeting.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been very critical of Russia's involvement in both the Syrian and Ukraine conflicts and backs continued European Union sanctions against Moscow. But Maas hails from her junior coalition partner, the Social Democrats, which has traditionally sought good ties with Russia.

Next week Maas is due to take part in an international conference on Syria in Brussels. He said humanitarian aid for people in Syria would be the main focus of that meeting.

"I will again affirm our support for the peace process under the aegis of the United Nations. We urgently need a political solution for this conflict that has gone on for far too long," Maas said.

On Monday Maas will fly to New York, where he will call for Germany to get a non-permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

(Reporting by Sabine Siebold and Michelle Martin; Editing by Gareth Jones)