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IRAQ

France to supply arms to Iraqi Kurds ‘within hours’

France has taken a decision to deliver weapons to Kurdish forces fighting Islamic extremists in Iraq, President Francois Hollande announced on Wednesday. The arms will be delivered "in the coming hours".

France to supply arms to Iraqi Kurds 'within hours'
An Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighter takes position on the front line. The Kurdish fighters will be helped by the supply of French arms. Photo: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP

"In order to respond to the urgent need expressed by the Kurdistan regional authorities, the president has decided, in agreement with Baghdad, to deliver arms in the coming hours," Hollande's office said in a statement.

"France intends to play an active role by providing, along with its partners and in liaison with the new Iraqi authorities, all the assistance required," the statement added.

Over the weekend, Paris already provided 18 tonnes of humanitarian aid and a new shipment of 20 tonnes of aid was due to arrive in northern Iraq later on Wednesday.

Hollande reiterated France's support for Iraq's premier designate Haidar al-Abadi and urged a "unity government, representing all Iraqis to fight effectively against Islamic State."

The French leader said the population in Kurdish areas of Iraq was facing a "catastrophic situation" which "called for the continuation and intensification of efforts by the international community."

"For several days, France has taken the necessary measures to support the operational capabilities of the forces fighting Islamic State," Hollande stressed.

France has been pushing for days for an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers to coordinate a European response to the crisis in Iraq, notably in terms of delivering arms.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton announced on Wednesday that she was prepared to convene such a meeting "as early as this week" and was checking with member states whether this was possible.

On Tuesday, Britain said it would transport military supplies from other countries to Kurdish forces battling the militants amid Western fears the crisis could spread throughout the region.

On Wednesday Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki continued to defy international pressure to step aside to forward reconciliation and the fight against militants.

Humanitarian crisis deepens

The United States has carried out air strikes against members of the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group in the area of Mount Sinjar, where the UN refugee agency says up 20,000-30,000 people, many of them members of the Yazidi minority, are besieged.

Thousands more poured across a bridge into Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region on Wednesday after trekking into Syria to escape, most with nothing but the clothes they wore.

Some women carried exhausted children, weeping as they arrived to the relative safety of Iraqi Kurdistan.

But there are still large numbers on the mountain, said 45-year-old Mahmud Bakr.

"Many of them are elderly; they cannot walk this distance," Bakr told AFP.

"My father Khalaf is 70 years old – he cannot make this journey. But up there, there is very little food and no medicine," he said.

UN minority rights expert Rita Izsak has warned they face "a mass atrocity and potential genocide within days or hours".

US Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that Washington is looking at options to bring the trapped civilians out.

"We will make a very rapid and critical assessment because we understand it is urgent to try to move those people off the mountains," he said.

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TERRORISM

France wants to bring home jihadists’ kids from Syria

France is seeking to repatriate some of the 150 children of French jihadists identified as being in Syria, as Western nations grapple with how to handle citizens who left to join extremists.

France wants to bring home jihadists' kids from Syria
Photos: AFP

A French official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Paris would repatriate the children “as much as is possible, on the condition that the mother agrees”.

“We're starting to look at how this might work,” the source added.

French authorities only have a precise location for some of the children, making these the only viable cases for potential repatriation, the source said, declining to give figures.

The cases of the 150 youngsters, some of whom are being held in camps in Kurdish-held northern Syria after the Islamic State group was driven from the area, were flagged up by authorities there or by their families in France.

Most are under six years old and were born in Syria.

The mothers of any repatriated children would be left in Syria, the source said.

Like other Western nations reluctant to bring jihadists back onto their soil, France has so far ruled out repatriating men who left to fight alongside IS, or women who left to marry them.

“Those who committed crimes in Iraq and Syria must be brought to justice in Iraq and Syria,” the foreign ministry said.

“Minors are the exception, and their situation will be examined on a case by case basis. We have a duty to protect children's interests.”

Yet bringing the children to France will be highly complicated, not least because Kurdish-held Syria is not a recognised state, and Paris has cut off diplomatic ties with Damascus.

'Inhumane choice'? 

The decision to leave French adults in the war zone has infuriated lawyers representing their families at home in France, who say their clients are being held in illegal detention in unsanitary conditions.

“This is scandalous and hypocritical on the part of the French government,” said Bruno Vinay, lawyer for the best-known French woman in Kurdish custody, Emilie Konig.

“France is leaving these women alone faced with the inhumane choice of separating from their children,” Vinay said.

“Given that this is all they have left, it is possible that only a minority will accept to separate from them.”

In neighbouring Iraq, only three French jihadist families have been flagged to authorities.

One of the mothers, Melina Boughedir, has agreed for her three of her children to be taken to France after Iraqi authorities sentenced her to life in jail for being an IS member.

Of some 680 French jihadists who travelled to Iraq or Syria to fight, more than 300 are believed dead while a small number of others have travelled to other countries, including Afghanistan and in North Africa.

Kurdish forces say they have more than 900 foreign IS fighters in custody coming from 44 countries, prompting a legal and ethical headache for the governments of their home nations.

Kurdish authorities have asked governments to repatriate their nationals, but with a few exceptions such as Russia, Indonesia and Sudan, most have proved highly reluctant.
 

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