President François Hollande said France remained "prepared" to participate in a U.S.-led strike on Syria despite British lawmakers' rejection of military action, though he said Paris had no intention of overthrowing Bashar al-Assad's government.
"Every country is sovereign in terms of participating or not in an operation. That's true of both Britain and France," he said in an interview with the Le Monde daily published Friday, adding that "the chemical massacre by Damascus cannot and must not go unpunished."
Hollande was referring to allegations by the Western powers and the Syrian opposition that Assad's government carried out an Aug. 21 chemical attack on the rebel-controlled Ghouta area outside Damascus that killed more than 1,000 people.
Assad has called the accusations "an insult to common sense," saying the alleged attack came just days after U.N. weapons inspectors had arrived in the country and at a time when government forces had gained the upper hand in the armed conflict.
Hollande said an international operation aimed at "liberating" Syria" or "overthrowing the dictator" would not be opportune, though he said the West must "put the brakes on a regime that does irreparable harm to its population."
His remarks were published a day after Britain's House of Commons voted 285-272 against a motion that would have opened the door to British participation in a U.S.-led strike.
Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, who favors an attack on Syria, had hoped to win over the opposition Labor Party and skeptics in his own party by amending his original proposal to delay any decision until U.N. inspectors complete their work.
The revised motion also established that Parliament would have to be consulted again before any commitment of British military forces or assets.
But the opponents of military action stood firm.
Russia and China also oppose military intervention in Syria, but Hollande said a broad coalition - including the Arab League, "which has condemned the crime and alerted the international community" - could carry out a strike without U.N. Security Council approval.
Hollande said a strike against the Syrian government could occur before Wednesday, when the French Parliament is scheduled to meet in an extraordinary session to analyze the situation. The president would not need lawmakers' approval before ordering military action.
He told Le Monde there was no longer any doubt a chemical attack occurred and that France had a "bundle of evidence" proving Syrian government forces were behind it, without providing any details.
The French president said he would discuss the Syrian situation in depth Friday with President Barack Obama and ruled out military action until U.N. weapons inspectors leave the Arab nation on Saturday, a day ahead of schedule. EFE