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France: Airstrikes and diplomacy

Date of publication: 24 November, 2015

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France has launched new air raids on Tuesday on IS targets in Iraq's Ramadi and Mosul following raids on Monday evening, as President Hollande seeks to mobilise nations against IS.

French war planes launched new air raids on Islamic State group-held cities in Iraq. 

The jets hit targets in Ramadi and Mosul, following air raids in IS territories in Iraq and Syria on Monday night.

Earlier on Monday, France launched its first air raids the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, which was recently deployed to the eastern Mediterranean equipped with 26 war planes.

It comes as global efforts to combat IS gather pace and world leaders meet for talks on the Syria conflict.

A military official from the Iraqi Ministry of Defence told al-Araby al-Jadeed Arabic that three French fighters "launched airstrikes on IS targets in Anbar and IS training camps in Mosul's forests".

Medical sources in Anbar province said that they received six bodies. Among the dead was a ten-year-old boy and his mother, as well as 19 people who were injured as a result of air raids on the Abu Flais area in eastern Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province.

Dr Nuhad al-Omar from Mosul Hospital told al-Araby al-Jadeed's Iraq correspondent over the phone that the raids on Tuesday in Mosul.

"[They] did not result in any deaths as they targeted empty sites, while raids last night killed 18 civilians and wounded others."

The Iraq strikes were "in support of ground forces that were pushing against troops of [IS]" said army chief of staff General Pierre de Villiers, aboard the carrier.

The defence ministry announced Monday evening that four Rafale jets from the aircraft carrier had also joined a mission carrying out bombing raids against IS targets in the group's Syrian stronghold of Raqqa.

The strikes took place at 1830 GMT and "destroyed an active site occupied by terrorist fighters in Raqqa", the ministry said.

Diplomacy

British Prime Minister David Cameron said he would make his case to parliament on Thursday about whether the UK should extend its bombing campaign to IS targets inside Syria.

That followed a morning meeting with French President Francois Hollande during which he praised France's decision to ramp up strikes against the extremist group after the Paris attacks.

"It's my firm conviction that Britain should do so too," Cameron said.

A week of frantic international diplomacy meanwhile was under way with Hollande set to meet all five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and the United States trying to rally support for a ceasefire in Syria.

Major differences remain over the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Western powers want him removed from power, but he retains strong support from old allies Russia and Iran.

In his first visit to Iran for eight years, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Monday.

They emphasised their opposition to any "external attempts" to bring regime change in Syria, a Kremlin official said.

At the same time, US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Abu Dhabi hoping to forge a coalition of Syrian opposition groups for peace talks.

Kerry hopes his Emirati and Saudi allies can pressure rebel factions into accepting a ceasefire with Assad within "a few weeks" - a step seen as crucial to refocusing the war on IS.

"You can be confident that the diplomatic front is in high gear, with a very real plan on the table to be implemented," Kerry said.

Defining week

In Paris, Cameron and Hollande stood side by side after laying a wreath at the Bataclan concert hall, where 90 of the 130 victims were killed in the Paris attacks of November 13.

While Britain has joined US-led coalition strikes on IS in Iraq, it has so far held back from hitting targets in Syria, where the jihadists also hold large swathes of territory.

The British leader said he had offered France the use of a strategically located British airbase in Cyprus, RAF Akrotiri, to facilitate air strikes, and assistance with refuelling French jets.

Hollande, who has said France is in a "war" against the jihadists, is embarking on what could be a defining week of his three-year-old presidency.

On Tuesday, he will fly to Washington for talks with President Barack Obama, and will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Paris over the next two days.

Completing a series of meetings with each of France's fellow UN Security Council members, Hollande will travel to Moscow for talks with Putin on Thursday and hold a working dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Paris on Sunday.

The Security Council on Friday authorised countries to "take all necessary measures" to fight IS in a resolution that won unanimous backing in the wake of the bloodshed in Paris.

Hollande said he hoped the resolution would "help mobilise nations to eliminate Daesh", using an alternative name for IS.

The US-led coalition has been pounding IS targets in Syria for over a year, but France joined the campaign only in September and has concentrated its air raids on Raqqa.

Russia has also bombed IS targets but has attracted criticism from Western powers for bombing other rebel groups opposed to Assad, a long-time ally of Moscow.

Iran has been Assad's other main backer since an uprising broke out against his rule in 2011 and escalated into a brutal civil war.

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