Fabius: Assad is butchering his people

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Thursday President Bashar al-Assad was "butchering his own people" as Syrian refugees urged Paris to help them fight.

Fabius: Assad is butchering his people
Frédéric de la Mure

"France's position is clear: we consider Assad to be butchering his own people. He must leave, and the sooner he goes the better," Fabius told reporters in a tent at the UN-run Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan, which houses around 6,000 Syrians.

"We are, at the international level, encouraging the Syrians to find a political transition. I stress that a political transition must come soon – this is the obvious solution," he added as dozens of Syrian refugees gathered outside the tent, chanting "Allahu akbar (God is greatest).

Fabius and his Jordanian counterpart Nasser Judeh toured the seven-square-kilometre (two-square-mile) camp, outside the city of Mafraq, before meeting King Abdullah II in Amman for talks on the Syrian conflict.

Several camp residents spoke to Fabius as he walked about, urging weapons for the rebels to topple Assad.

"We do not need refugee camps. We need weapons, RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) and anti-aircraft rockets to fight Bashar," said Mohammed Hariri, 51, of Daraa, the cradle of the revolt that erupted 18 months ago.

"Bashar forces killed my son and destroyed my house. I want revenge," he said.

Suad, a 40-year-old mother of four, agreed.

"We do not want aid. We want to arm the opposition and get rid of Bashar's regime," she said.

Fabius later told reporters: "There has been no delivery of lethal weapons from European countries, particularly France, because we are committed to uphold an arms embargo.

"We respect the embargo, and at the same time we are helping the Syrian resistance as much as we can," he said, adding however that some countries were willing to provide the rebels with non-lethal equipment.

And he added that France was in contact with "a certain number of officials" from the Syria opposition, including the rebel Free Syrian Army.

Asked about the possibility of imposing no-fly zones, he said there was no such decision yet forthcoming from the United Nations to authorise them.

Fabius also called for a "representative" political transition in Syria.    

"This political transition must unite the Syrian people and guarantee the rights of minorities. It is essential that it be representative of Syria as it is today," he told a news conference.

"We sincerely hope that a transitional government can be put in place as quickly as possible – one that the leading countries of the world will recognize – and that this will enable the Syrians to hasten the fall of Assad, which has become a clear necessity."

At the desert refugee camp, Fabius met with UN officials and visited a French field hospital, which was dispatched to the kingdom on Sunday along with tonnes of aid and medical equipment.

"The purpose of my visit here is to show France's solidarity … My trip is primarily humanitarian in nature," he said, adding that conditions in the camp are "very difficult" and "all remains extremely precarious."

Syrian refugees have complained of sweltering heat, dust, lack of electricity and at times sexual harassment.

"Today I have brought just over 20,000 masks which will protect people's throats, ears and noses from sand," Fabius said.

"I will also meet members of the Syrian opposition," he added without elaborating.

Jordan is hosting more than 150,000 Syrians, including members of the opposition, as well as former prime minister Riad Hijab, who fled to the kingdom last week after defecting.

"At the meeting with the French minister, the king warned of the Syrian conflict's repercussions for the entire region," a palace statement said, stressing that "Jordan will continue to aid the Syrian refugees despite limited resources."

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French group to open two hotels in Damascus

France's Louvre Hotels Group has signed an agreement to open two hotels under its own name in Damascus, the first with a western hotel operator since Syria's brutal civil war began in 2011.

French group to open two hotels in Damascus
Louvre owns the Golden Tulip five-star brand. Photo: Louvre Hotels Group
The confirmation of the two hotels opening, after recent media reports, came a day after the UN announced an internal investigation into the bombing of hospitals in Syria, and as at least six civilians were killed by the Syrian regime and Russian fire in northwestern Idlib province in the past days, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The region of around three million people, many of them displaced by fighting in other areas, is one of the last holdouts of opposition fighting against the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance led by Al-Qaeda's former Syria affiliate controls most of Idlib as well as parts of neighbouring Aleppo and Latakia provinces.
The hotels “will open soon under the brand name of Louvres Hotels Group,” the company, which is owned by China's Jin
Jiang, said in a statement.
Louvre Hotels Group said the deal was signed between Syria's Nazha Investment Group and “a partner with whom Louvre Hotels cooperates in the Middle East”.
The exact number of people killed in Syria's war is unknown but hundreds of thousands have died.
Several dozen medical facilities with links to the UN have been damaged or destroyed by bombs this year. Russian has denied deliberately targeting civilian installations.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Friday said an internal inquiry would look into the bombing of hospitals in Syria which had previously flagged their coordinates to avoid air strikes.
“The deal is strictly in line with international law and all international directives regarding Syria,” the French company statement said.
According to the website, The Syria Report, it is the first agreement with a western hotel operator since 2011, when the devastating conflict began. Louvre Hotels Group was taken over by China's Jin Jiang in 2015 and it operates more than 1,500 hotels in 54 countries.