French defense minister calls for Assad’s ouster

France weighing terrorist group classification for Hezbollah, according to report

Syrian President Bashar Assad gestures as he speaks at the Opera House in central Damascus, Syria, in January (photo credit: AP/SANA)
Syrian President Bashar Assad gestures as he speaks at the Opera House in central Damascus, Syria, in January (photo credit: AP/SANA)

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called Saturday for regime change in Syria, indicating a stiffening stance on the part of his country regarding the fate of Bashar Assad.

Le Drian told a security forum in the United Arab Emirates that “it is more urgent than ever to act to overcome differences in favor of a political transition.” He clarified, “a transition in which President Assad would no longer keep his place.”

The two-year-old civil war in Syria between regime and rebel forces has killed nearly 70,000 people, according to United Nations estimates. US Secretary of State John Kerry quoted a figure of 90,000 late last week.

In related news, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman told Lebanese daily An-Nahar that his government was not ruling out declaring the Shi’ite group Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

Philippe Lalliot said that his government was awaiting the full results of a Bulgarian investigation into last year’s bus bombing in Burgas, in which five Israelis were killed. A preliminary report released earlier this month placed the blame for the attack squarely on Hezbollah.

Lalliot offered that if the Bulgarian investigation yields clear findings, the European Union may unanimously move for adding the organization to their terror list. France has previously resisted such a designation.

Canadian diplomats have been actively lobbying the governments of European Union countries to blacklist the Lebanese-based group.

“We believe there is overwhelming evidence to suggest Hezbollah has been not just complicit, but actively carrying out terrorist attacks around the world in support of Iran,” a Canadian official said Friday. “We hope that the European Union will follow Canada’s lead.”

Hezbollah receives military training, financial support and weapons from Iran. According to the Middle East Forum, a conservative American think tank, the US estimates that Iran provides the Shi’ite organization with $60-100 million annually. Hezbollah is also backed by the Assad regime in Syria.

Unconfirmed reports from foreign news sources in late January claimed that Israel had struck a weapons convoy near the Syria-Lebanon border that was transferring arms to Hezbollah.

The group has been accused of several major terror attacks in the past 20 years, including the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, that killed 85 people.

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