French lawmakers meet Assad on unofficial trip to Syria
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French lawmakers travelling “in a personal capacity” held talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Wednesday in Damascus, Le Monde reported, in a visit condemned by both French President François Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls.
The visit is the first by French officials since Paris suspended diplomatic relations with the Syrian regime in 2012 over its violent crackdown on opposition protests.
“We met Bashar al-Assad for over an hour this morning,” said Jacques Myard, a member of parliament for the opposition UMP party, describing the talks as “very direct”.
Myard said the delegation had also met with Mohamed Jiham Laham, the speaker of the Syrian parliament, and visited a local hospital where they saw "horrific things, [including] children wounded by terrorists".
The four members of parliament included representatives of the ruling Socialists and the centrist UDI party.
'No official message'
Myard, an outspoken MP known for his pro-Russian stance in the Ukraine crisis, had earlier told the AFP news agency that he and his colleagues were on a “personal mission to see what is going on [in Syria]”.
The visit comes amid growing calls for a change of tack in relations with the Assad regime, which some diplomats and intelligence officials view as a possible ally in the fight against the Islamic State group.
President François Hollande on Thursday condemned the group for meeting with Assad, whom he called a "dictator".
"I condemn this initiative. I condemn it because French lawmakers have taken it upon themselves to meet with a dictator who is the cause of one of the worst civil wars of recent years," Hollande told reporters while on a trip to the Philippines.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls also issued a statement condemning the MP's visit "in the strongest possible terms".
Alexandre Giorgini, a spokesperson for the French foreign ministry, emphasised that the ministry had played no part in organising the trip.
The lawmakers “carried no official message”, he said.
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