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FRANCE - SYRIa

French Syria IS air strikes to start 'in next few weeks'

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls addresses the National Assembly on Syria on 15 September 2015
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls addresses the National Assembly on Syria on 15 September 2015 Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

French air strikes on Syria will start within a few weeks, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Wednesday. In a debate in parliament on military action against the Islamic State (IS) armed group in the Middle East Prime Minister Manuel Valls revealed that 133 French citizens or residents have been killed fighting for IS.

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French aircraft started reconnaissance flights over Syria last week, following a U-turn by President François Hollande, and on Monday the president announced that air strikes would be "necessary".

"In the next few weeks," Le Drian replied when asked when they would start on France Inter radio, "As soon as we have well identified targets that will allow us to launch the strikes needed to face up to an enemy that is Daesh [the pejorative Arabic acronym for IS], which is a threat to us."

Le Drian distinguished between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom he described as "the enemy of his people" and IS, which "is in a position to attack our country today".

Valls told the National Assembly on Tuesday that the air strikes would "take as long as necessary, several weeks certainly".

In a consultative debate, since the decision is the president's prerogative, Valls ruled out sending ground troops, a move that is only advocated by a small minority of MPs, but said Paris would support a ground offensive by "regional countries".

The number of French citizens and residents who have joined IS's "Syrian and Iraqi networks" is now estimated to be 1,880, he said, 491 of them are currently there and 133 have been killed, up from 110.

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