The Syrian government criticized France late Sunday for carrying out a series of airstrikes on an Islamic State training camp in Syria, arguing that the attacks were not coordinated with Damascus.
“The French president has not coordinated those actions with the Syrian president,” the Syrian ambassador to the UN, Bashar Jaafari told the Russian news agency TASS.
“The French military acted without an agreement with the Syrian armed forces. It is impossible to be fighting terrorism other than in cooperation with the legal government in Syria and the Syrian military. This is exactly what [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin meant calling the Syrian army the only legitimate force to deal with in fighting terrorism.”
Jaafari also rebuked French President Francois Hollande for calling for a regime change in Syria on Sunday, saying such a call was in contradiction with the UN charter.
“Words of the kind are clueless, especially at the UN headquarters,” he said, adding that France has no right to “fight terrorism this way — unilaterally.”
“This is an American coalition, not an international one and it is not based on the Security Council’s resolution and is not supported by a consensus,” the Syrian ambassador said according to TASS.
Hollande said Sunday that six French jet fighters targeted and destroyed an Islamic State training camp in eastern Syria, making good on a promise to go after the group that the president has said is planning attacks against several countries, including France.
The airstrikes were the first in Syria by France as it expands its mission against IS.
“The camp was totally destroyed,” Hollande said Sunday after arriving at the United Nations, before the start of a major development summit and the UN General Assembly bringing together world leaders.
“We’re sure there were no casualties” among civilians, he added.
The French president’s office announced the strikes, without details, in a statement hours earlier.
“Our nation will strike each time our national security is at stake,” the statement said.
Hollande told reporters the strikes on the training camp, and others to come, were aimed at “protecting our territory, cutting short terrorist actions, acting in legitimate defense.”
Hollande said more strikes “could take place in the coming weeks if necessary.” The targets were identified in earlier French reconnaissance flights and with information provided by the U.S.-led coalition.
The president announced earlier this month a change in French strategy — expanding its airstrikes over Iraq into Syria.
France has carried out 215 airstrikes against IS extremists in Iraq as part of the US-led coalition since last year, the French Defense Ministry said earlier this month. But it previously held back on engaging in Syria, citing concern over playing into Assad’s hands and the need for such action to be covered by international law.
Officials now evoke “legitimate defense” as spelled out in the UN Charter to support strikes in Syria.
France has already been attacked by extremists claiming ties to Islamic State. Hollande, who has ruled out sending ground troops into Syria, has cited “proof” of plans for attacks on France and the growing danger to Syrian civilians, with a large chunk of the population fleeing in a massive exodus.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls said France was going after IS “sanctuaries where those who want to hit France are trained.”
The goal of the strikes is to “slow, break, stop if possible the penetration of Daesh,” Gen. Vincent Desportes said on the iTele TV station, using the Arabic acronym for IS.
Hollande stressed the importance of seeking a political solution for Syria.
“More than ever the urgency is putting in place a political transition,” including elements of the moderate opposition and Assad’s regime, the statement said.
In New York, the French president said he would be meeting this week “all the partners” in the Syrian conflict.
“This political solution requires that all stakeholders are involved,” he said. “We are not excluding anyone.” He didn’t name countries.
At the same time, he said, “The future of Syria cannot be with Bashar al Assad.”
The French government has insisted that while it is part of the US-led coalition, France is deciding independently who and what to hit in Syria.
Hollande announced on Sept. 7 France’s intention to start airstrikes, days after the photo of a dead 3-year-old Syrian boy washed up on the Turkish coast after he and his family fled their home galvanized public concern about Syrian refugees fleeing to save their lives.
In his statement Sunday, Hollande said: “Civilian populations must be protected from all forms of violence, that of IS and other terrorist groups but also the murderous bombardments of Bashar Assad.”