PARIS: President Francois Hollande said Tuesday that France was “ready to punish” those behind last week’s alleged deadly chemical weapons attacks in Syria, stressing that the conflict threatened “world peace.”
Tensions have ratcheted up dramatically in recent days as Western and Arab nations increasingly call for action in the wake of the suspected gas attacks on August 21 in the Damascus suburbs, which Syria’s opposition says killed more than 1,300 people.
“France is ready to punish those who took the vile decision to gas innocent people,” Hollande said in a televised speech, pointing the finger of blame at President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
The Syrian regime has angrily denied being behind the alleged chemical weapons strikes, and has defiantly vowed to defend itself against any outside intervention with measures that would “surprise” the world.
“Our responsibility today is to look for the most appropriate response to the exactions of the regime,” Hollande said, adding that the “chemical massacre in Damascus cannot be left without a response.”
“This civil war today threatens world peace,” he said, adding that it had affected neighbouring countries such as Lebanon and Iraq, wracked by bloody violence and attacks, and an influx of refugees in Turkey and Jordan.
He referred to a 2005 United Nations resolution on the “responsibility to protect civilians” and said France would increase military support to the main Syrian opposition body.
“I have decided to increase our military support to the Syrian National Coalition (SNC),” Hollande said without elaborating.
The French leader also said a decision about military intervention in Syria would be taken “in the coming days.”
“There are times when this responsibility is heavy: whether to involve France or not, react or not… intervene or stand back, once more this question returns or will return in the coming days,” he said.
Syria’s opposition said Tuesday that it expects a Western military intervention within days and has been consulted over potential targets.
“There is no precise timing … but one can speak of an imminent international intervention against the regime. It’s a question of days and not weeks,” said Ahmad Ramadan, an SNC political committee member.
“There have been meetings between the Coalition, the (rebel) Free Syrian Army and allied countries during which possible targets have been discussed,” the official said.
A potential coalition of countries that would launch strikes on Syria is likely to include the United States, France, Britain and other countries such as Turkey.