Macron vows reprisals if chemical weapons used in Syria

French President Emmanuel Macron

:: France would respond immediately to any use of chemical weapons in Syria, French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday while urging a stepped-up “partnership” with Moscow in fighting Daesh in the country.

“A very clear red line exists on our side, the use of chemical weapons by whomever,” Macron said at a joint news conference in Versailles with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

“Our absolute priority is the fight against terrorism and the eradication of terrorist groups and Daesh in particular,” he said.

“It’s the guiding principle of our action in Syria and in which I want… for us to be able to strengthen our partnership with Russia.”

The newly elected French leader said he favored “a democratic transition” in Syria that would “preserve the Syrian state.”

He added that “failed states in the region are a threat to our democracies, and we have seen each time they have enabled terrorist groups to advance.”

Putin said he and Macron agreed to discuss pursuing closer cooperation on anti-terror efforts, with a proposed exchange of experts to work toward that goal.

On Syria, Putin underlined the importance of securing the Syrian state, adding that it’s essential for combating terrorism.

Russia has staunchly backed Syrian President Bashar Assad throughout the conflict, while France has pushed for Assad’s removal from office.

Meanwhile, more airstrikes and artillery shelling hit the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of Daesh, as US-backed fighters pushed closer to the extremists’ stronghold, activists said.

The developments come ahead of what is expected to be a major battle for Raqqa in the coming weeks.

Airstrikes have intensified over the past days as Kurdish-led Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) have pushed on toward the city, getting closer to it from all sides. The SDF captured dozens of towns and villages under the cover of airstrikes by the US-led coalition since November, when the group began an operation entitled Euphrates Wrath, aiming to eventually surround and capture Raqqa.

SDF fighters have surrounded Raqqa from the north, west and east. The extremists still have an exit from the south, even though the US-led coalition destroyed two bridges on the Euphrates River south of Raqqa.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the city was pounded by warplanes and artillery since early morning. The activist group had no immediate word on casualties from the new airstrikes, adding that about 38 people have been killed in Raqqa and its suburbs over the past three days.

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