France ready to 'punish' those behind Syria gas attack

President François Hollande told a gathering of French ambassadors Tuesday that France is ready to "punish" those responsible for a suspected poison gas attack near Damascus last week, calling it a "heinous decision to gas innocents".


President François Hollande told a gathering of French ambassadors on Tuesday that France was ready to "punish" those responsible for a suspected poison gas attack outside Damascus last week, calling the move a "heinous decision to gas innocent people".

"France is ready to punish those who took the vile decision to gas innocent people," he said in a televised speech in Paris, adding that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime was likely behind the attack.

Hollande's comments come as the United States and Britain are drawing up plans for a possible military strike on Syrian targets.

Syrian opposition groups say more than 1,300 people died in a toxic gas attack last Wednesday as regime forces bombarded rebel zones east and southwest of Damascus. Doctors without Borders, a French medical aid group, said that 355 people died of the 3,600 they treated following the alleged attack.

The Assad regime has categorically denied using chemical weapons in the attack.

"Our responsibility today is to look for the most appropriate response to the exactions of the regime," Hollande said, adding that the "chemical massacre in Damascus cannot be left without a response".

"This civil war today threatens world peace," he said of the Syrian conflict.

Hollande also announced that France would increase its military support to the main Syrian opposition body and referred to a 2005 United Nations resolution on the "responsibility to protect civilians".

"I have decided to increase our military support to the Syrian National Coalition," he said without elaborating.

US 'ready to go'

Tensions have ratcheted up dramatically in recent days as Washington and Britain have warned Syria's regime that it will face action over the alleged chemical weapons strikes in Damascus, while Russia has warned that a possible military strike would have "catastrophic consequences" for the region.

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel told the BBC on Tuesday that US military forces in the region are "ready to go" if President Barack Obama gives the order to strike Syrian targets. Britain has said it was also reviewing contingency plans for a "proportionate" intervention in Syria.

Israeli citizens, worried about a possible retaliatory attack if Western powers launch a strike against Damascus, have been receiving state-issued gas masks. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Tuesday to "respond forcefully" to any attempt to target Israel.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)


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