‘Worried’ over Syria talks, Hollande pledges support for Jordan

Sunday 17/04/2016

Hollande is worried ‘civilians will flee once again’

AMMAN - French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday that the Syrian opposition's decision to suspend participation in peace talks was "worrying", as he offered to support Jordan in dealing with refugees fleeing the five-year conflict.

Speaking a day after Syria's main opposition announced its formal participation in peace negotiations in Geneva was on hold, Hollande said he was concerned that a ceasefire that has dramatically reduced fighting across Syria might not last.

"If the truce is broken, fighting will restart, and civilians will flee once again. There will be no hope," Hollande said after talks with Jordan's King Abdullah II.

"For Jordan, what's happening in Geneva is very important. The suspension of talks is worrying."

On Monday a collection of key Syrian rebel groups announced an armed response to what it said were "violations" of the ceasefire deal by pro-regime forces as violence mounted around second city Aleppo.

Hollande, who visited Cairo on Monday, has said that everything needed to be done in order to ensure the cessation of hostilities holds.

He has been on a regional tour to countries affected by war, during which he announced 100 million euros ($113 million) to Lebanon to help with the mass influx of Syrians escaping violence.

In Jordan, home to more than 630,000 displaced Syrians, the president discussed the refugee crisis as well as the fight against the Islamic State group.

The jihadists were recently forced from the ancient city of Palmyra but still control swathes of Syria, including its de facto capital Raqa.

"There are still refugees coming from Syria after fleeing fighting around Raqa and Palmyra. We need to support them but also ensure that terrorism isn't brought with them," Hollande said.

Jordan, which is part of a US-led coalition battling ISIS in Syria and Iraq, has struggled to cope with the numbers of Syrians seeking refuge in the kingdom.

It said on Monday that more than 50,000 refugees were stranded in no-man's land along its border with Syria -- a three-fold increase since January due to increased security checks.

Jordan insists it must screen newcomers to ensure they are genuine refugees and not jihadists seeking to infiltrate the country.

A French presidential source said Hollande's visit was a chance to "reaffirm France's support" to the kingdom, and to express thanks for "the leading role Jordan plays in the fight against terrorism".

Hollande is due to head later Tuesday to Prince Hassan airbase, where French warplanes are stationed for missions against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

He was also expected to follow up on the situation regarding a French extradition request for two Jordanian suspects accused of carrying out a deadly attack on a Paris Jewish restaurant in 1982, which Amman has rejected.