French, Russian presidents meet to fight ISIS

by

November 27, 2015

MOSCOW (AP)

The presidents of France and Russia agreed yesterday to tighten cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State (IS)group, although they remained at odds over their approach toward Syrian President Bashar Assad.

IS has claimed responsibility for deadly attacks against both of the countries' citizens in recent weeks; November 13 shootings and suicide bombings in Paris, which killed 130 people, and the October 31 bombing of a Russian passenger jet over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula that claimed 224 lives.

French President Francois Hollande has been on a diplomatic drive since the Paris attacks to increase cooperation in tackling IS, which holds swathes of territory in both Syria and Iraq. He has met this week with President Barak Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, before flying to Moscow yesterday for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Hollande and Putin agreed on increasing intelligence sharing, intensifying their airstrikes against IS in Syria and cooperating on selecting targets - two days after Turkey downed a Russian warplane near the Syrian border.

"We agreed on a very important issue: To strike the terrorists only, Daesh and the jihadi groups only, and not to strike the forces and the groups that are fighting against the terrorists," Hollande said after the meeting, referring to IS by its Arabic acronym. "And we are going to exchange some information about that: what can be struck, and what must not be struck."

But the two countries remain at odds in their approach toward Assad, with Hollande saying the Syrian head of state "does not have his place in Syria's future," and Putin stressing that "the Syrian president's fate should be entirely in the hands of the Syrian people."

Putin described Assad's army as a "natural ally" in the fight against IS - an essential force capable of battling the extremist group on the ground. He added that Russia was ready to cooperate with other groups ready to fight IS.

Russia has been Assad's staunchest ally, and has come under criticism for targeting some rebel groups, who are fighting against both IS and Assad in Syria's multifaceted and complex civil war.

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