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France considers air strikes against IS group in Syria, rules out ground troops

Philippe Wojazer, AFP | President François Hollande holds a press conference in Paris on September 7, 2015

President François Hollande on Monday announced France will start reconnaissance flights and is looking at the possibility of launching air strikes against the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria.


Hollande said the intelligence gathered from the surveillance flights would inform the government’s decision on whether to launch air strikes against IS militant targets.

“The fight against terrorism needs to be carried out at home, but also in the places where it is entrenched,” Hollande said in reference to large swaths of Syria and Iraq controlled by IS jihadists.

The French president said the flights would start as early as Tuesday and in coordination with the US-led coalition fighting the IS group.

Meanwhile on Monday UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced that a Royal Air Force drone killed a British jihadist in Syria last month.

The killing of 21-year-old Reyaad Khan, who left home to join Islamic State (IS) group militants in 2013, is a first because it happened in a country where Britain is not at war and has provoked fierce criticism from human rights campaigners.

Cameron said the strike was “an act of self-defence” since Khan had been planning “barbaric” attacks in Britain against high-profile commemorations over the summer.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

The Socialist president ruled out sending ground forces to Syria, saying such a move would be “ineffective and unrealistic”.

Syria’s future

He also repeated past claims that there was no room for President Bashar Al Assad in a post-civil war Syria.

“He is responsible for the current situation in Syria,” Hollande said in reference to Assad, claiming the Syrian strongman had unleashed a fierce crackdown on peaceful protesters at the start of the war, used chemical weapons on his own population and repeatedly refused to negotiate with the opposition.

“A political transition must be a part of the Syrian solution. We can imagine negotiations with the Syrian government, but eventually Bashar Al Assad must go,” Hollande insisted.

He said the reconnaissance flights over Syria and the potential airstrikes would not require additional military spending, claiming existing air operations in neighbouring Iraq could be expanded at no extra costs to taxpayers.

French air strikes have so far been limited to Iraq, in response to specific demands by the Iraqi government for military assistance.

France to take 24,000 refugees

Hollande made the announcements during his highly-anticipated twice-yearly press conference at the Elysée Palace in Paris.

He also addressed Europe’s refugee crisis, this year’s UN climate conference in Paris and other domestic issues.

Regarding Europe's unfolding refugee crisis, he said that France would welcome 24,000 over the next two years.

Hollande explained he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had agreed upon a mechanism to distribute refugees across Europe, with mandatory quotas for member states over a precise number of years.

Hollande full press conference

He added that while Britain was not part of the border-free Schengen Area, it would also have to face a shared European responsibility with regard refugees.

Global events influenced change

The president’s announcement on Syria was widely anticipated in the French press, after newspaper Le Monde and other news outlets quoted unnamed government sources as saying Paris would likely change its strategy on Syria.

Hollande said the several factors – including the foiled terrorist attack on a Paris-bound train in August, the thousands of migrants trying to reach Europe, and the shocking photo of the body of three-year old Ayland Kurdi washed up on a beach in Turkey last week – had influenced his decisions over France’s strategy in Syria and migrants.

According to an opinion poll published by Le Parisien on Sunday, 55% percent of French people surveyed were opposed to an easing of rules for migrants asking for refugee status, including Syrians fleeing civil war.

The same survey, conducted by the Odoxa polling institute, said 61% were in favour of France taking part in a coalition sending ground troops to Syria to fight the IS group.

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