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SYRIA CRISIS - PARIS TALKS

SYRIA

France, UK and US to up support for Syrian rebels

Western powers vowed to step up the pressure on Syrian president Bashar al-Assad after talks in Paris on Monday. The foreign secretaries of France,the UK and the US agreed to increase their backing for rebels battling Assad.

France, UK and US to up support for Syrian rebels
From left ro right: William Hague, Laurent Fabius, John Kerry. Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP

Britain, France and the United States on Monday agreed to step up their backing for rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The three powers also agreed at talks in Paris that Assad would face "serious consequences" if he fails to comply with a UN resolution setting out a timetable for the handover of Syria's chemical weapons to international control, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.

US Secretary of State John Kerry did not use the word "serious", saying: "If Assad fails to comply with the framework we are all agreed that there will be consequences."

Kerry, who agreed the terms of the weapons handover with his Russian counterpart in Geneva on Saturday, said the allies were committed to keeping up the pressure on Assad.

"Each of us here today are here to emphasise the same thing, that what we achieved in this agreement has to be translated into a UN resolution, it has to be strong, it has to forceful it has to be real, it has to be transparent, it has to be timely, all of those things are critical, and it has to be enforced.

"If the Assad regime believes that this is not enforceable and we are not serious, they will play games."

Fabius announced there would be a major international meeting with leaders of the Syrian National Coalition on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York next week.

"We know that in order to negotiate a political solution, there has to be a strong opposition," Fabius said.

French officials said Russia had been invited to the conference.

Kerry also stressed that the allies were "committed to the opposition" and said Assad had "lost all legitimacy to be possible to govern his country."

The signal of support for the rebels came in reaction to criticism of the chemical weapons deal from opposition leaders, who fear it could consolidate Assad's grip on power.

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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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