France said on Sunday it launched its first air strikes in Syria, destroying an Islamic State training camp in the east of the country to prevent the group from carrying out attacks against French interests and to protect Syrian civilians.
France had until now only struck Islamic State targets in neighbouring Iraq, carrying out just 3 percent of air strikes in an offensive on the group by a US-led coalition. France has also provided limited logistical support to Syrian rebels it considers moderate, including Kurds.
“France struck in Syria this morning an Islamic State training camp which threatened the security of our country,” French President Francois Hollande told reporters on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
He said six fighter jets had destroyed their targets near Deir ez-Zor and that more operations could take place in coming weeks to protect France and Syrian civilians.
France had feared strikes in Syria could be counter-productive and could strengthen President Bashar al-Assad, who has been fighting a rebellion against his rule since 2011.
However, France was shaken by a series of deadly attacks by Islamist militants this year, including the killing of 12 people at the office of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in January.
In addition, Paris has become alarmed by Islamic State gains in northern Syria and the possibility of France being sidelined in negotiations to reach a political solution in Syria.
A French diplomatic source said Paris needed to be one of the “hitters” in Syria — those taking direct military action — to legitimately take part in any negotiations for a political solution to the conflict.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to launch a new initiative for a political solution in Syria during meetings in New York this week, diplomats said.
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