Hollande: France ‘ready to punish’ those behind chemical attacks in Syria

Published: Updated:

French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday that the Syrian civil war threatens the “world peace” and that his country is ‘ready to punish’ those behind the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

“France is ready to punish those who took the decision togas the innocent,” Hollande told an annual meeting in Paris of dozens of French ambassadors posted around the world.

Hollande said it seemed certain that forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad were behind the chemical attack - which is believed to have killed hundreds of civilians - and said it was the outside world’s responsibility to respond.

Hollande said he will hold a defense council meeting on Wednesday and will brief the French parliament about it.

Imminent attack

Western diplomats from 11 “Friends of Syrian” countries told Syrian opposition figures during a meeting in Istanbul on Monday that an attack on Syrian should be expected within days, Reuters reported, quoting sources who attended the meeting.

“The opposition was told in clear terms that action to deter further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime could come as early as in the next few days, and that they should still prepare for peace talks at Geneva,” one of the sources who was at the meeting on Monday told Reuters.

The UK has said it is drawing up contingency plans for military action in response to last week’s alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria.

“We are continuing to discuss with our international partners what the right response should be, but, as part of this, we are making contingency plans for the armed forces,” AFP quoted the spokesperson as saying, AFP quoted Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesperson as saying on Tuesday.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, meanwhile, has made a flurry of calls to allies as momentum builds for a response to Syria's alleged chemical attack, an official told AFP on Tuesday.

Over the last five days Kerry has spoken with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the foreign affairs ministers of allies Britain, France, Canada, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

Kerry has also been in contact with senior NATO, EU and Arab League officials, and he has spoken to his counterparts in Syria and Russia, which has been a close military patron of Damascus for decades.

A senior State Department official said the talks were part of "ongoing consultations about the appropriate response to the chemical weapons attack in Syria."

Russia’s response

Russia has warned that a military intervention in Syria could have "catastrophic consequences" for the region and called on the international community to show "prudence" over the crisis.

"Attempts to bypass the Security Council, once again to create artificial groundless excuses for a military intervention in the region are fraught with new suffering in Syria and catastrophic consequences for other countries of the Middle East and North Africa," a foreign ministry spokesman said, according to AFP.

"We are calling on our American partners and all members of the world community to demonstrate prudence (and) strict observance of international law, especially the fundamental principles of the UN Charter," ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who is known for his sharp tongue, said on Twitter that "the West behaves towards the Islamic world like a monkey with a grenade."

Earlier Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said that Moscow regretted Monday's decision by the US to postpone a meeting on the Syria crisis, as Western powers mulled military action over last week's chemical attack in Syria.

The scrapping of the meeting, which was due to take place at The Hague later in the week, is the latest sign of a new peak in tensions between Moscow and the West over the possibility of military strikes against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.