April 14, 2018 / 10:16 AM / 8 days ago

RPT-UPDATE 5-France: Syria strikes' aim met, more possible if red line crossed

(Repeats with no changes)

* Strikes aimed at Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal

* Strikes contained, legitimate, says France

* Cruise missiles used in coordination with Britain, U.S.

By Jean-Baptiste Vey, Marine Pennetier and Matthias Blamont

PARIS, April 14 (Reuters) - France said on Saturday it would not hesitate to strike Syrian government targets again if the chemical red line was crossed, but that no new strikes were planned at this stage, adding that it would renew a push for peace through dialogue with Russia.

President Emmanuel Macron ordered the military intervention in Syria alongside the United States and Britain in response to a poison gas attack that killed dozens of people last week.

“Our objectives were met,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told BFM TV.

If the red line banning the use of chemical weapons was crossed again, there would be another intervention, he said, while adding: “I think the lesson will have been learnt.”

The French strikes, involving 12 cruise missiles, fighter jets and warships, were Macron’s first major military decision since taking office a year ago and was all but inevitable after the young president repeatedly said France would strike if a fatal chemical attack took place in Syria.

“This action was proportionate and targeted, it was not aimed at (Syrian President Bashar al) Assad’s allies nor at the civilian population,” Le Drian said in a televised statement.

Le Drian said France, which has backed opponents of Assad throughout the civil war, would swiftly take new political initiatives to find a solution to the crisis.

He added that Paris would work with all countries and that there were no changes to Macron’s planned trip to Russia next month.

While there had been general public warnings broadcast by U.S. President Donald Trump, Macron himself and other Western leaders, a French presidency source said Macron did not tell Russian President Vladimir Putin the allies would strike overnight when they talked over the phone on Friday.

However, regular “deconfliction” contacts were made with the Russian military once the operation had been kicked off to make sure that they would not be accidentally hit, the source said.

Defence Minister Florence Parly said this meant Russia had been “warned beforehand” to avoid any confrontation or escalation.

The French presidency issued a video on Twitter showing what it said were war planes taking off as part of the intervention.

Macron said in a written statement that the attack had been limited to Syria’s chemical weapons facilities and said the facts and the responsibility of the Syrian regime were beyond doubt.

Backing up its reasons for the air strikes, the foreign ministry released an intelligence report based largely on open sources which concluded that there was no other plausible explanation than a chemical attacked coordinated by the Syrian military.

The report said that for now France did not have chemical samples from the attack site analysed by its own laboratories yet.

Macron, who tweeted a picture of himself in a meeting room with military and diplomatic advisers, has not made any address to the nation. He is due to be interviewed by three French media on Sunday night.

The French air force has been active in Syria since 2015 to fight Islamic State, but had not targeted government targets until now. (Additional reporting by Geert De Clercq and John Irish; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by John Irish)

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