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SYRIA

Has France got a ‘kill-list’ in Syria like Britain?

Is France about to follow the lead of the UK and start sending its warplanes to kill French citizens in Syria? The French public would certainly not be against the move, experts say.

Has France got a 'kill-list' in Syria like Britain?
French navy Rafale fighter jets prepare to take off from the aircraft craft carrier Charles de Gaulle operating in the Gulf. Photo: AFP
The same day that Britain said its drones had killed two of its citizens in Syria, President Francois Hollande announced he would send planes into Syria to locate and possibly destroy people believed to be planning attacks on France.
 
He said the first French flights over Syrian territory would be to collect intelligence, and that this would “allow us to plan airstrikes against Daesh (Islamic State).”
 
A few hours after he spoke on Monday, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron revealed that British drones had recently killed two British Islamic State jihadists in Syria.
 
This was a lawful “act of self defence” because the jihadists had been plotting “barbaric” attacks on UK soil, Cameron argued, despite widespread scepticism over the legality of the operation.
 
The next day the British press was awash with stories that British forces had a “kill-list” of about a dozen Britons they wanted to take out in Syria.
 
France could easily produce the same arguments for killing some of the hundreds of its citizens who have flocked to Syria to join the ranks of the Islamic State (Isis). 
 
Security experts say the terrorist threat posed by European jihadis returning home after fighting in the Middle East is significant.
 
Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year-old French national, who has been charged with carrying out the deadly attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels,  had spent more than a year in Syria.
 
“It is certain that there are French among the jihadists (in Syria) and if there are strikes then they too might well be hit,” said Jean-Vincent Brisset, a former fighter pilot and now an analyst at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS) in Paris.
 
“A large part of French public opinion would not be too unhappy if a (French jihadist) was not going to come back to France and carry out an attack here,” he said.
 
“But I don’t think the French have a kill-list as such, even if there a certain number of (French) persons (in Syria) that France would like to see hit,” said Brisset.
 
Asked about the possibility and legality of French warplanes taking out French citizens, a spokeswoman at French military headquarters said: “For the moment we are at the stage of reconnaissance flights and no strikes have been carried out. So this is not an issue at the moment.”
 
Jean-Pierre Maulny, a defence expert, said it was likely that French citizens would sooner or later be killed by French planes, but that he did not think French citizens would be singled out in Syria.
 
“I don’t think they will differentiate between French jihadists and others.”
 
Maulny pointed out that France does not have drones that it can use in Syria, and would have to rely on the Mirage and Rafale fighter jets it has based in Abu Dhabi and at a Jordanian air force base.
 
This would make it much more difficult to carry out precision strikes on individuals.
 
“However if they do have intelligence on French citizens in Syria planning attacks on France, then they would strike,” he said.
 
But a general policy of targeting French jihadists would be “contradictory,” he said, as the French government is seeking ways of de-radicalising the young people who have ended up in Isis or who are tempted to join, and not to kill them.
 
by Rory Mulholland
 
 

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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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