UPDATE - France 'does not seek confrontation' post Syria strikes

'We refuse any possibility of military escalation', says French Defense Minister Florence Parly


By Hajer M'tiri

PARIS (AA) - France, which joined the United States and Britain in carrying out "coordinated" military airstrikes in Syria targeting the Syrian regime's chemical weapons arsenal, said Saturday it was not seeking a “confrontation” in the region.

In a statement, President Emmanuel Macron said the attack had been limited so far to Syria’s suspected chemical weapons facilities.

“We cannot tolerate the recurring use of chemical weapons, which is an immediate danger for the Syrian people and our collective security," he said.

“On April 7, dozens of men, women and children were massacred in Douma, with the use of a chemical weapon in a total violation of international rules.

“The red line set by France in May 2017 has been crossed. So, I ordered the French armed forces to intervene tonight, as part of an international operation in coalition with the United States of America and the United Kingdom and directed against the clandestine chemical arsenal of the Syrian regime."

He said that the facts and the responsibility of the Syrian regime were beyond doubt.

Macron said a debate about France’s military involvement would take place in parliament.

Speaking at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the country had "acted in accordance with our words, in accordance with our responsibility and in coordination with our allies."

“The regime of Assad deliberately decided to break the taboo of the 20th century, which is the use of chemical weapons,” Le Drian said in a joint statement with Defense Minister Florence Parly.

- 'No confrontation'

"[Assad] hasn't hesitated to break international law."

He added France had three imperatives going forward: The dismantling of the Syrian chemical weapons program, a cease-fire across Syria, and a crisis exit plan.

At 3 a.m. Paris time, French forces "in close coordination with US and British troops" conducted an operation in Syria, Parly said.

"On a practical level, this operation required air and naval means, multi-mission frigates accompanied by support ships were deployed in the Mediterranean Sea. At the same time an air raid left at night from multiple air bases in France," she said.

"These different means fired... cruise missiles at the chosen targets in close coordination with our British and American partners.

"We had ensured that the Russians were warned beforehand," Parly said, adding that France does "not seek confrontation, and we refuse any possibility of military escalation".

Australia also backed the joint strike.

In a joint statement by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Defense Minister Marise Payne said: “Australia supports these strikes, which demonstrate a calibrated, proportionate and targeted response.”

“They send an unequivocal message to the Assad regime and its backers, Russia and Iran, that the use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated,” they added.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed support for the strikes.

“Canada supports the decision by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France to take action to degrade the Assad regime’s ability to launch chemical weapons attacks against its own people,” Trudeau said in a statement.

“We will continue to work with our international partners to further investigate the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Those responsible must be brought to justice,” he added.

The three countries jointly launched strikes targeting the Assad regime's chemical weapons research center near Damascus, a chemical weapons warehouse and a command center related to chemical weapons located west of Homs, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford said earlier at a joint press conference with Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

The strikes are the second time U.S. President Donald Trump has ordered the U.S. military to target Syrian regime positions in response to a chemical attack.

Last year, the U.S. targeted the Shayrat Airbase after a chemical attack blamed on the regime struck a town in northern Syria.

The White Helmets, a civil defense agency, blamed the Assad regime for the chemical attack, which it said killed 78 civilians and injured hundreds of others in the Syrian city of Douma in Eastern Ghouta.

*Recep Sakar in Melbourne and Seyit Aydogan in Ottawa contributed to this story.

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