France and Britain raise stakes on Syria
France said Monday it had ordered preparations to begin for air strikes on the Islamic State in Syria while British Prime Minister David Cameron said he would seek parliament's approval to hit at the jihadists.
Cameron confirmed that Britain had carried out a first drone strike in Syria in August, killing three jihadists, two of them from Britain.
The RAF drone strike that killed Reyaad Khan and another Briton was "entirely lawful" because Khan had been planning and directing "specific and barbaric" attacks in Britain, Cameron said.
"Is this the first time in modern times that a British asset has been used to conduct a strike in a country where we are not involved in a war? The answer to that is yes," he added.
Britain is already carrying out airstrikes on IS targets in Iraq, but Cameron said he wanted Britain to able to extend its anti-IS bombing campaign to Syria.
He stressed that he would return to parliament for formal authorisation to do so, two years after suffering a humiliating defeat on the issue.
In Paris, Hollande said he had ordered surveillance flights to begin over Syria to lay the ground for air strikes on IS targets.
"I have asked the defence ministry that from tomorrow surveillance flights can be launched over Syria, allowing us to plan airstrikes against Daesh (the Islamic State group)," Hollande told a press conference.
France has been targeted by a series of jihadist attacks this year, most recently when a heavily armed suspected extremist tried to attack a train on French soil only to be overpowered by passengers.
Coupled with the migrant crisis, which is partly fuelled by refugees fleeing the chaos in Syria, the political pressure has been building on Hollande to take action.
"What we want is to know what is being prepared against us and what is being done against the Syrian population," he added.
Hollande however ruled out sending French ground forces into Syria, saying it would be "unrealistic."
"It's for regional forces to take their responsibilities. France, however, will work to find political solutions," he said.
He said finding a political "transition" that sidelined Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was "essential".
- 'Late in the game' -
France, like Britain, is currently only participating in missions against IS in Iraq.
Analysts were lukewarm about Hollande's strategy shift.
"It's above all else a domestic political gesture, with in the background the message 'look, we're doing something'," retired French general Jean-Claude Allard, director of research at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (IRIS), said.
Myriam Benraad, of the Centre of International Research (CERI) in Paris, said: "It's a direct response to this disaster, but it comes a little late, and airstrikes are not enough to solve this problem."
Cameron cited the risk of terror attacks in saying he believed there was "a strong case" for Britain taking part in airstrikes in Syria.
"I believe that case only grows stronger with the growing number of terrorist plots," he told parliament, adding that six plots against Britain had been disrupted over the past 12 months.
The defeat that Cameron suffered on taking military action in Syria in 2013 was one of the most damaging foreign policy blows to his previous coalition government.
The prime minister needs opposition support to win parliamentary approval for the air strikes, because of his slim parliamentary majority and because some of his own lawmakers are against the move.
Jeremy Corbyn, the favourite to win the leadership of the main opposition Labour Party later this week, is a founder of the Stop the War coalition.
Corbyn repeated his opposition to air strikes on Monday, saying: "My view is that it would create more problems than it would solve."
The initiatives come at a time of growing concern in the West over reports that Russia is toughening its military stance in Syria.
Moscow has been a bulwark of military and diplomatic support to the Assad regime, and is promoting an expanded coalition against IS that includes countries in the region as well as the regular Syrian army.
A Greek foreign ministry official said Monday that the US had asked Greece to bar Russian supply flights to Syria from its airspace.
"We received the (US) request on Saturday and are examining it," a Greek foreign ministry official said on condition of anonymity.
© 2015 AFP