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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La France frappe la Syrie

by Lina Sankari

France strikes Syria

Translated Thursday 1 October 2015, by Spencer Russ

The first aerial operations were carried out today in the north of Syria. On the eve of the UN General Assembly, diplomatic ties are multiplying between Moscow and Tehran in preparation for a political resolution. The departure of Bashar al-Assad is no longer a prerequisite.

The symbol is devastating. Yesterday, on the eve of the General Assembly of the United Nations, France announced that it had launched its first aerial strikes in Syria against the terrorist group “Islamic State” (IS). According to the Elysée, Paris’s engagement without a mandate from the UN is a justified military action as a legitimate defense in light of terrorist threats. The Defense Ministry assures that it will not engage in a “campaign of massive strikes” but of targeted actions against “centers of gravity” (IS command centers, training camps, etc.). While the jihadists control 40% of Syrian territory, initially the operations should be concentrated on Raqqa, a stronghold of the Islamist insurrection, and on a general area where attacks against Europe may be being planned.

This engagement in the north of Syria is happening even though events seem to be racing ahead. Assisted by Moscow, Syrian government forces appeared to be once again on the offensive against the jihadists after several weeks of military setbacks. Russia had placed around thirty reconnaissance and attack aircraft in Syria and called for a concerted action against IS. With this in mind, President Obama is due to meet Vladimir Putin in New York and signal the end of side-lining Moscow since the Ukrainian crisis. Moreover, these limited airspace operations allow us to envision a de facto coordination between French forces and those of other nations, including Syria [1]. Finally, the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning-CV-16 has been posted at the Syrian port of Tartus, accompanied by a missile cruiser. For the first time since the beginning of the war, Beijing has arrived to materially support Russian actions with a thousand sailors, a squadron of J-15 fighter jets, and helicopters in order to hunt down Uighur jihadists, from Xinjiang, present in Syria.

On the diplomatic level, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel has confirmed the turning point taken by Western diplomats several weeks ago. After London, she finally felt that a process of discussions had to engage with the Syrian President. While the main powers made the departure of Bashar al-Assad a precondition to any peace talks, the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan explained that the Syrian leader could figure significantly in the transition process. In New York, the head of the European diplomatic corps Federica Mogherini and the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif “have told each other they are ready to cooperate, in the framework of UN-led efforts” according to a European communique.

Kept away from the Geneva negotiations, Tehran is in fact an unavoidable actor in the resolution of the conflict. After meeting the American Secretary of State John Kerry, the Iranian diplomat is due to meet Laurent Fabius, who was until recently suspicious with regard to Iran. Concerning the political future of Bashar al-Assad, the French Minister has also made a U-turn despite the complexity of the situation: “These negotiations cannot have the precondition that Bashar al-Assad will be the eternal future of Syria, but negotiations must be developed.” Although we are still far from a peace plan with clear objectives, Laurent Fabius speaks in favor of “the formation of a government including elements of the regime and members of the opposition who reject terrorism.”

[1Editor’s comment: In the meanwhile, the President Bashar Al Assad of Syria has made it clear that the French strikes have not been coordinated with the Syrian government.

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