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President Hollande called yesterday for a "large coalition" including the US, Europe, and Arab states to respond to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime in Syria. Today the head of the French opposition said his party could not support a military intervention in Syria without the backing of a UN resolution. The French president is constitutionally authorized to act on Syria without Parliament's approval.
Interior Minister Valls said that France "cannot go it alone" on Syria and would wait for the US Congress' decision. The government released an intelligence assessment blaming the Assad regime for the Aug. 21 attack in Damascus and describing the regime's extensive chemical weapons arsenal. The leaked French intelligence report claims that the Assad regime has over 1,000 tons of such agents, including the extremely lethal nerve toxin VX.
President Hollande said he supports "firm" punitive action against the Assad regime in Syria over the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack, and that France's position had not changed despite the recent British vote against an intervention. He said the attack could come by Aug. 4, when the French parliament debates the issue. He said he is not in favor of an intervention to topple the regime but rather to deal it a body blow for its use of chemical weapons. France has sent one of its latest warships to waters off Syria. China told France that determining who used the chemical weapons in Syria must be a precondition to any action.
Foreign Minister Fabius said that if allegations are true that regime forces in Syria used chemical weapons in a recent attack in Damascus, the international community would have to react "with force" in Syria, but also said there was "no question of sending troops on the ground." He added that there were "possibilities for responding."
Interior Minister Valls played down reports of a recent al Qaeda threat to European railways, saying French intelligence has found no evidence to support the alleged threat, but added that France is vigilant. Even though intelligence indicated no specific threat to France, but perhaps a general threat in northern Europe, France stepped up policing on its rail lines in the wake of the threat. French intelligence estimates that some 220 Frenchmen have gone to Syria for jihad; a "disproportionate number" are Muslim converts.
Authorities arrested a Tunisian Islamist from a suburb of Paris yesterday and deported him for threatening two journalists. He had allegedly shown willingness to join the al Qaeda-linked Al Nusrah Front in Syria. On June 28, authorities arrested four suspected radical Islamists, including one from Benin, during a raid in Paris, and put them under investigation.
President Holland said France has been "informed directly and indirectly of threats concerning our installations overseas and even our nationals, threats coming from al-Qaida." The French embassy in Yemen will close for several days. INTERPOL issued a global security alert noting prison escapes last month in nine countries, including Iraq, Libya, and Pakistan, alleging al Qaeda involvement in several of the jailbreaks. France and Belgium proposed the creation of a passenger name record system for tracking European citizens and preventing them from going to fight in Syria or other countries.
Foreign Minister Fabius called for the release of Egyptian political prisoners, including former president Morsi. A well-known French-Tunisian jihadist, Boubakeur Hakim, is being sought as the number one suspect in the assassinations two leading Tunisian politicians.