France mulls joining US-led air strikes on IS group in Syria
France is considering joining US-led coalition air strikes against Islamic State (IS) group positions in Syria, French media reported over the weekend, with President François Hollande expected to address the issue on Monday.
French forces currently only participates in missions against IS militants in Iraq following Baghdad's specific request for international assistance in fighting the jihadists.
Paris has previously refused to join coalition strikes in Syria due to the Socialist government’s fears that any foreign intervention may inadvertently help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad maintain his grip on power.
But Le Monde, France’s newspaper of record, said that global events have forced the government’s hand. Paris is now considering joining air strikes and reconnaissance flights over the war-torn country.
"The accelerating exodus of Syrian (refugees), the failure of the coalition to push IS back to Iraq and possible Russian military reinforcements (in Syria to support Assad) are challenging the French position," Le Monde said.
Neither the French presidency, nor the defence ministry would comment on the newspaper report, with officials saying only that Hollande may address the issue during his high-profile twice-yearly press conference on Monday.
However, AFP news agency quoted unnamed officials as saying that Paris may renounce its pledge not to intervene militarily in Syria "for reasons of national security" in light of recent terrorist attacks and IS-linked jihadists plots in France.
Other French dailies appeared certain Hollande would announce a significant shift in France’s policy on Syria.
Right-leaning Le Figaro criticised what it called a “belated move”, arguing that the refugee crisis had forced the French president to “abandon a hypocritical policy that has contributed to the IS group’s resilience”.
Le Figaro said Hollande should now push for a “strategic review of the anti-IS coalition of Western and Arab states”, involving the establishment of a regional army to reclaim lands conquered by the jihadist group.
Left-wing daily Libération welcomed the change of military strategy in Syria, while lamenting the lack of French initiative on Europe’s refugee crisis.
“A negotiated solution to the crisis now seems within reach,” Libération said, referring to EU attempts at overhauling the continent's rules on asylum. “But one cannot say that François Hollande was a driving force behind this change.”
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.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
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