France to launch air strikes in Syria ‘in coming weeks’
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France announced Wednesday that French fighter jets will start bombing Islamic State (IS) group targets in Syria in the coming weeks as a matter of "self-defence”, despite growing opposition among lawmakers in Paris.
But Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on France Inter radio Wednesday that the French strikes would go forward "in the coming weeks, as soon as we have well-identified targets”.
Quoting President François Hollande, government spokesperson Stéphane Le Foll later told ministers that the strikes were justified by the “principle of self-defence”.
“The strikes … fall under the right of self-defence in the face of direct threats to France’s security, particularly coming from Syria and Daesh,” he said. Daesh is an alternative name for the IS group, often used by French politicians.
French fighter jets have been carrying out air strikes in Iraq but had stayed away from Syria, amid fears that it could inadvertently strengthen President Bashar Assad’s position. Hollande has consistently stated that there is no room for Assad in a post-civil war Syria. However, Le Drian said the IS group’s growing presence in Syria over recent months had forced Paris to take action.
The French president confirmed on Tuesday that strikes against the IS group in Syria "would be necessary".
“We are part of the coalition in Iraq [against the IS group],” he said at a news conference. "We started reconnaissance flights [over Syria] to enable us to consider air strikes and they will be necessary in Syria."
The United States, Canada, Turkey and Gulf States have already been taking part in strikes on IS militant positions in Syria, and were joined on Wednesday by Australia, according to an announcement by the Canberra government.
On Tuesday, France’s defence minister told parliament the IS jihadist group had made "very significant progress" in Syria, especially in the northern region of Aleppo.
"There is an extremely strong offensive taking place on the small town of Marea, which if it succeeded would wipe out what we still call the Free Syrian Army or the national Syrian coalition, or what is left of it," he said.
Four million Syrians have fled the brutal four-year-old civil war, which has seen Assad's government – backed by Iran and Russia – bombard rebels and civilians alike.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)