France: UK vote does not change will to act on Syria
Hollande says still supports 'firm' punitive action against Syrian regime over chemical attack, adds Paris can act without Britain, after its parliament voted against strike. UK's Cameron says Obama will understand need to listen to wishes of British people
French President Francois Hollande said a British parliamentary vote against taking military action in Syria would not affect France's will to act to punish Bashar Assad's government for an apparent chemical weapons attack on civilians.
Hollande told the daily Le Monde in an interview that he still supported taking "firm" punitive action over an attack he said had caused "irreparable" harm to the Syrian people and said he would work closely with France's allies.
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Asked if France could take action without Britain, Hollande replied: "Yes. Each country is sovereign to participate or not in an operation. That is valid for Britain as it is for France."
A British parliamentary defeat on Thursday of a government motion on Syria has dealt a setback to US-led efforts to punish Damascus for last week's poison gas attack.
Hollande is not constrained by the need for parliamentary approval of any move to intervene in Syria and could act, if he chose, before a parliamentary debate on the issue set for Wednesday.
Hollande told Le Monde that he would not take any decision to act unless the conditions were there to justify that.
"All the options are on the table. France wants action that is in proportion and firm against the Damascus regime," he said.
"There are few countries that have the capacity to inflict a sanction by the appropriate means. France is one of them. We are ready. We will decide our position in close liaison with our allies."
Prime Minister David Cameron on his part he regretted the failure of the British parliament to support military action in Syria but that he hoped President Barack Obama would understand the need to listen to the wishes of the people.
"I think the American public, the American people and President Obama will understand," Cameron said just hours after parliament voted against a government motion to authorise the principle of military action in Syria.
"I haven't spoken to him (Obama) since the debate and the vote but I would expect to speak to him over the next day or so. I don't think it's a question of having to apologise," Cameron said in an interview aired on British television channels.
Germany won't participate in strike
Also Friday, Germany’s foreign minister ruled out his country’s participation in a military strike in Syria.
Guido Westerwelle told Saturday’s Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung that such military action had “neither been asked nor is it being considered by us”, according to comments pre-released by the paper.
Meanwhile, a team of United Nations inspectors departed in three cars to a hospital in a government-held area of central Damascus to visit doctors on Friday, a Reuters witness said.
The inspectors have spent the week visiting rebel-held areas on the outskirts of Damascus following reports of a chemical weapons attack last week that the opposition blames on President Bashar Assad. The Syrian government accuses the rebels of chemical weapons attacks on civilians and soldiers.
The witness said the inspectors were not carrying body armor, indicating they would not cross into rebel-held territory.
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