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Chemical massacre must not go unpunished, says French President

France's President Hollande

France’s President Hollande

PARIS — French President Francois Hollande said a British parliamentary vote against taking military action in Syria would not affect France’s will to act to punish Bashar al-Assad’s government for a chemical weapons attack on civilians.

Hollande told the daily Le Monde in an interview that he still supported taking firm punitive action over an attack he said had caused irreparable harm to the Syrian people, and said he would work closely with France’s allies.

Diplomatic sources said that while Britain’s absence from any intervention was a setback and could add to reservations among the French public about strikes, Hollande may now feel he has an even stronger duty to carry through on a promise to punish the perpetrators of the poison gas attack.

“The chemical massacre in Damascus cannot and must not go unpunished. Otherwise we’d run the risk of an escalation that would trivialise the use of these arms and put other countries at risk,” Hollande told Le Monde.

Asked if France could take action without Britain, he replied: “Yes. Each country is sovereign to participate or not in an operation. That is valid for Britain as it is for France.”

The British parliamentary defeat of a government motion on Syria has called into question Britain’s traditional role as Washington’s most reliable military ally and complicated US-led efforts to punish Damascus for the attack.

Hollande is not constrained by the need for parliamentary approval of any move to intervene and could act, if he chose, before a French parliamentary debate on Syria set for Wednesday.

Hollande — who has not spoken to British Prime Minister David Cameron since yesterday’s vote but was due to talk today to US President Barack Obama — told Le Monde he would not take a decision to act unless the conditions justified it.

“All the options are on the table. France wants action that is in proportion and firm against the Damascus regime,” he said.

“There are few countries that have the capacity to inflict a sanction by the appropriate means. France is one of them. We are ready. We will decide our position in close liaison with our allies.”

France and Britain have become close diplomatic allies in the years since their disagreement over joining the 2003 US-led war in Iraq and coordinate closely in defence operations.

Cameron stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Hollande’s predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy two years ago when the EU members launched air strikes against the forces of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to stop his crushing of a rebel uprising. (Reuters)

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