France is not at war with Syria but “with chemical weapons” – PM

PARIS, France is not at war with Syria, with the Syrian people or the Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad but will not tolerate any use of chemical weapons by Damascus now or in the future, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Monday.

In a speech to Parliament on the French role in a three-nation strike against suspected Syrian chemical weapons sites on Saturday, Philippe justified the action alongside the US and Britain and said that operation was “a success.” But he sought to underline that this did not change France’s overall goals to get a political transition and a peaceful solution to the seven-year-old Syrian conflict that has killed at around 400,000 people and driven half the Syrian population from their homes.

“The enemy is not Syria,” Philippe said concerning the air and sea missile attacks against the Syrian targets.

“We have not gone to war with the Syrian people, with the Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad,” he added.

In Syria, “our enemy is Daesh (so-called Islamic State),” yet he warned Damascus also that chemical weapons use “will not be tolerated.” The Prime Minister recalled that President Emmanuel Macron in May 2017 had set out a “Red Line” for the Syrian regime, forbidding it to use chemical weapons.

He remarked that the establishment of this “Red Line” had been approved at the time by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was the first major foreign leader to visit France after Macron’s election in May.

“On April 7 (in Douma) that ‘Red Line’ was crossed,” the French head of government indicated, pointing to several attacks using chlorine that day against targets that included a medical facility.

He said the use of such weapons, that he noted are banned since 1925, was corroborated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and by French and other sources.

He also stressed that by international standards and conventions, the use of chemical weapons is “a war crime.” He also pointed to “the clear responsibility of Syrian forces” in using chemical weapons at Douma and elsewhere like in Khan Sheikun last year.

On the military operation itself, which used French sea-based cruise missiles and missiles fired by aircraft, Philippe said that all targets were hit and destroyed and Syria’s ability to manufacture or stock chemical weapons has been seriously degraded.

“Our riposte was amply justified,” he told the Parliament, noting that many parties, including the GCC countries “very clearly” approved the strike, which “has thus sent a very strong, very firm message” to the Syrian regime.

The French Parliament is debating the strike called by Macron in his capacity as Head of the Armies, but there will be no vote by deputies at the end of the debate.

Source: Kuwait News Agency