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France ‘ready to punish’ Syria over gas attack

French President François Hollande vowed on Tuesday that France was "ready to punish" those responsible for the recent chemical weapons attack in Syria, as the UK and US administrations earlier appeared to prepare the way for military intervention as early as this week.

France 'ready to punish' Syria over gas attack
French President Francois Hollande 'ready to punish Syria' Photo: AFP

Addressing a conference of French ambassadors, in Paris, Hollande declared "France is ready to punish those who took the disgusting decision to gas innocent people in Syria."

Hollande further warned that the Syrian civil war posed "a threat to world peace."

Stressing a "responsibility to protect civilians," Hollande also said that "chemical massacre cannot remain without a response from France."

To that end, he declared: "I have decided to increase our military support to the Syrian National Coalition," the country's main opposition body

Hollande also announced he would be meeting with his defence chiefs on Wednesday, in order to devise a strategy.

Earlier in the day a source from within his administration had promised France would not "shirk its responsibilities" in Syria.

The source said the "massive use" of chemical weapons is "unacceptable", adding that there was no doubt that President Bashar al-Assad's regime had used them in a deadly attack last week on a Damascus suburb.

Tensions have ratcheted up dramatically in recent days with Washington warning Damascus that it could face action over the alleged chemical weapons strikes in which hundreds are said to have been killed.

British forces on Tuesday were said to be making "contingency plans" for a possible strike in the coming days.

Earlier in the day US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel told BBC that though a final decision had not been made, a military response from the US was "ready to go."

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem retorted that Damascus would defend itself against any military strikes, adding that the regime had capabilities that would "surprise" the world.

The war-torn country's opposition says more than 1,300 people died when toxic gases were unleashed last Wednesday as regime forces bombarded rebel zones east and southwest of Damascus.

But the Syrian regime has angrily denied being behind the alleged attack.

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SYRIA

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.
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