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FRANCE AND SYRIA

SYRIA

France: Assad talks would be ‘gift’ to Isis

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Monday rejected any role for President Bashar al-Assad in Syrian peace talks, saying it would be a "scandalous gift" to the Islamic State group.

France: Assad talks would be 'gift' to Isis
French foreign minister Laurent Fabius and his US counterpart John Kerry. Photo: AFP

Fabius's comments came a day after US Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged that talks with Assad were necessary to bring the bloody conflict in Syria to an end as it enters its fifth year.

"The solution is a political transition which would preserve regime institutions, not Mr Bashar al-Assad. Any other solution which would keep Mr Assad in the saddle would be an absolutely scandalous, gigantic gift to Daesh," Fabius said in Brussels, using another name for IS.

"The millions of Syrians who have been persecuted by Assad would transfer their support to Daesh. Obviously that must be avoided."

The French minister said he had spoken to Kerry on Monday morning and that the top US diplomat "assured me that there was absolutely nothing new in the American position on Syria."

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls also criticised the comments, saying "there will be no solution as long as Bashar al-Assad leads Syria."

Underscoring that France had always professed the need to find a political solution, Valls said on French television channel Canal+ that Assad was "responsible for tens of thousands of deaths."

On Sunday Kerry's spokeswoman had quickly clarified the remarks that the US envoy made in a television interview, insisting that Washington's policy was unchanged and that Assad had no role in Syria's future.

Washington has previously insisted the Assad must step aside and can have no role in Syria's future.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said that she understood Kerry was referring to the Syrian regime and not Assad.

"I don't think he was referring to Assad himself… but to the regime," she told a press conference after a meeting with EU foreign ministers.

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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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