Syrian refugee Janda Hussein, 29, who is from Damascus, with her two-year-old daughter at Bulgaria’s shelter for clandestine immigrants near Lyubimets. (AFP)
Paris, Aug. 30: President François Hollande of France today offered strong support for international military action against the Syrian government, supporting the Obama administration just a day after the British Parliament rejected Minister Prime David Cameron’s call for intervention.
A chemical attack in the Damascus suburbs on August 21 attributed by western powers to Syrian government forces “must not go unpunished”, Hollande said in an interview with Le Monde, the French daily newspaper. “Otherwise, it would be taking the risk of an escalation that would normalise the use of these weapons and threaten other countries.”
A military strike against government targets would have a “dissuasion value” and push the government of President Bashar al-Assad towards a negotiated “political solution” to the conflict, Hollande said, referring to France’s explicitly stated goal.
France has been outspoken in saying the government of Assad must be punished for the reported poison gas attack last Wednesday, in which hundreds of people were killed. Although Hollande has presented no specific evidence linking Syrian government to the attacks, he has spoken confidently of its culpability. Parliamentary approval is not required for French military action, Hollande has said his government was “prepared to punish” those responsible.
“France possesses a body of evidence that goes in the sense of the regime’s responsibility” for the chemical attacks near Damascus, Hollande said. The use of chemical weapons there is an “established fact” he said, and “it is known that the opposition possesses none of these weapons”.
France’s determination contrasted sharply with that of Germany. “We are pressing for the United Nations Security Council to reach a common position and for the UN inspectors to conclude their work as soon as possible,” said the German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, in comments reported by a regional newspaper, the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung. Referring to German participation in a military strike, he said: “Such participation was not requested of us and neither are we contemplating it.”
Hollande’s interview appeared just a day after Cameron was handed a stinging rebuke in the House of Commons, where parliament rejected British military participation in any strike on the Syrian government.
British legislators rejected a motion urging an international response to the chemical weapons attack by a vote of 285 to 272, reflecting concerns that there was insufficient evidence that the August 21 attack in the eastern suburbs of Damascus had been carried out by forces loyal to Assad.
Lawmakers were also worried about the strategy behind the call for limited strikes, which they feared could cause an escalation of the conflict and strengthen opposition forces aligned with al Qaida.
The Obama administration is nonetheless moving ahead, despite doubts in Congress and among the American public. Pentagon officials said yesterday that the navy had moved five destroyers, each equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles, into the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
The US will continue trying to build an international coalition, defence secretary Chuck Hagel said today in Manila. “Our approach is to continue to find an international coalition that will act together,” Hagel said. “And I think you’re seeing a number of countries state, publicly state, their position on the use of chemical weapons.”
New York Times News Service