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France rules out cooperation with Assad against Islamic State

France's president rejected on Thursday (Aug 28) any cooperation with Bashar al-Assad whom he accused of being a "de-facto ally" of jihadists wreaking havoc in Syria and Iraq, and urged a "humanitarian and military" response to the threat.

PARIS: France's president rejected on Thursday (Aug 28) any cooperation with Bashar al-Assad whom he accused of being a "de-facto ally" of jihadists wreaking havoc in Syria and Iraq, and urged a "humanitarian and military" response to the threat.

Speaking at an annual Paris gathering of ambassadors from around the world, Francois Hollande touched on crises in both countries as well as those rocking Ukraine and Libya - all of which he said affected France directly. "At the heart of the Middle East, a barbaric organisation is attempting to become a state to impose a caliphate," he said of the Islamic State radical group, whose campaign of extreme violence has terrorised civilians and rivals alike.

Hollande reiterated his proposal to hold an international conference in Paris "to organise the coordination of international action against the Islamic State on humanitarian, security and military fronts". "A big alliance is necessary but let's be clear - (Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad cannot be a partner in the fight against terrorism, he is the de-facto ally of jihadists," he said.

His comments came after Assad's regime said on Monday it was willing to work with the international community, including Washington, to tackle IS militants that have emerged from the chaos of a conflict that has killed more than 191,000 people. The United States has already carried out reconnaissance flights on Islamic State positions in Syria in surveillance seen as a precursor to possible air strikes against the radical group, which it is already carrying out in neighbouring Iraq.

'TOTAL CONFUSION' IN LIBYA

Hollande also touched on the crisis in Ukraine, where Western intelligence believes Russian army units are taking part in the four-month conflict that has seen more than 2,200 people lose their lives. "If it turns out that there are Russian soldiers present on Ukrainian soil, it would be intolerable and unacceptable," he said, asking Moscow to "respect Ukraine's sovereignty" and "stop its support for separatists" in the east of the country.

And on Libya, which he said was his current "major concern", Hollande called on the United Nations to provide special support for authorities in the north African nation, which is sliding ever deeper into chaos as militias fuel an escalating war. Over the past weeks different factions in the country have backed rival prime ministers and national assemblies, while Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have carried out air strikes against Islamists.

At the weekend, Islamist fighters seized Tripoli airport, compounding a crisis that has been boiling since the fall of long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. "France asks the United Nations ... to organise exceptional support for Libyan authorities to restore their state," he said, without detailing what form this support should take.

"There is total confusion" in Libya, he warned. "Jihadist groups have taken control of important sites and not only oil sites. There are two parliaments, two governments - even if for us there is only one legitimate one - and there are militias. If we do nothing ... terrorism will spread to all this region." 

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