Timur Moon — International Business Times Sept 1, 2013
A new poll has revealed that the French people are overwhelmingly against military action in Syria.
Of those questioned, 64% said they were “hostile” to the prospect of the nation’s armed forces intervening in the Syrian conflict, while 58% said they did not trust President Francois Hollande to conduct any armed operation.
Hollande is pressing for air strikes on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in retaliation for its alleged use of chemical weapons.
More than 1,400 people are believed to have died in rebel-controlled areas of Damascus last week, in what experts believe was an attack using nerve agents such as sarin or mustard gas.
Hollande, as supreme commander of France’s armed forces, has the power to declare war and launch military action without parliamentary approval.
But he will be alarmed by the results of the BVA poll published in the French capital’s daily newspaper Le Parisien.
Of those questioned, 37% said they believed military action would push Syria from being a secular republic into an Islamist state.
Similarly, 35% thought it would inflame tensions in the region, and 22% thought it would not change the lives of ordinary Syrians.
The lack of clear evidence that Assad had used chemical weapons was a concern for 17% of those polled, while 18% said they believed military action would provoke retaliation against French interests.
Among the concerns voiced was the fear that armed intervention would turn Syrians against the West and increase the barbarity of its civil war, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives since hostilities broke out in 2011.
The poll findings were based on interviews with 1,010 respondents.Two other opinion polls published this week, in the wake of the suspected nerve gas attack, indicated lukewarm support among French voters for military intervention in Syria.
Despite the findings, BVA analyst Celine Bracq said she believed the mood would change if Hollande committed French forces to US-led military action.
“Be careful – the French are not for getting into a war, but they will largely get behind the head of state by patriotic reflex as soon as the operation is triggered,” she said.
Hollande, whose popularity has suffered due to the stuttering French economy, has called for military action against Syria to “strike a body blow” against the Assad regime.
Air strikes could start as early as Wednesday, he said, insisting he was determined to act despite Britain’s parliament voting against the UK’s participation in an attack.
Emergency session in parliament
The French parliament is to meet on Wednesday for an emergency session on Syria.
In an interview with French daily Le Monde, Hollande said: “Each country retains the sovereign right to participate or not in an operation. That applies to Britain as well as France.”
Hollande added: “If the Security Council fails to act, a coalition will form. It should be as broad as possible.
“It will be based on the Arab League, which has condemned the crime and alerted the international community. It will have the support of Europeans.
“But there are few countries which have the capacity to inflict sanctions through appropriate means. France is one of them. And she is ready for that.”
In January, Hollande sent air and ground forces into Mali to combat al Qaida-linked militias in the Sahara and Maghreb. That intervention received the backing of two-thirds of the population.
Britain provided logistical and other non-military support to French troops in Mali.
In Britain, a poll for Express Online on Friday found only 8% of those questioned supported immediate air strikes on Syria, while 12% remained undecided.
But 41% were against UK participation in a military intervention in Syria under any circumstances, while 39% would only countenance air strikes if the UN confirmed that chemical weapons have been used by the Syrian regime.