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France points finger at Syria for Lebanon attack

France's Foreign Affairs Minister Juppe attends the government question session at the National Assembly in Paris
France's Foreign Affairs Minister Juppe attends the government question session at the National Assembly in Paris

By John Irish

PARIS (Reuters) - France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Sunday Paris believed Syria was behind attacks on its troops in Lebanon earlier this week.

A roadside bomb wounded five French peacekeepers in southern Lebanon on Friday, in the third attack this year on United Nations forces deployed near the frontier with Israel.

"We have strong reason to believe these attacks came from there (Syria)," Juppe said on RFI radio. "We think it's most probable, but I don't have proof."

France - with Britain, Germany and the United States - has been pushing for the U.N. Security Council to take up the issue of Syria again. In October, Russia and China vetoed a resolution that would have condemned Damascus's crackdown on pro-democracy protesters and threatened possible sanctions.

Paris is now pushing for the creation of humanitarian corridors to provide aid to the population.

When asked if he believed Hezbollah had carried out the attack on behalf of Damascus, Juppe said: "Absolutely. It is Syria's armed wing (in Lebanon)."

Friday's bombing follows attacks in May and July against French and Italian peacekeepers and comes as the United Nations prepares a review of its 12,000-strong operation, which was beefed up after Israel's 34-day war with Hezbollah in 2006.

Juppe called on the Lebanese government to ensure the safety of peacekeepers in the country and said the review at the U.N. would assess the consequences of the attacks and redefine the objectives of the UNIFIL mission.

Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati is due to visit Paris in January and Syria is likely to be top of the agenda.

France has led Western efforts to try to force Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to end the crackdown. Juppe has suggested a need to set up zones to protect civilians, the first proposal by a major Western power for outside intervention on the ground.

Resistance has been fiercest in the central city of Homs. Increasingly in the last several weeks the town has seen sectarian killings and kidnappings between Sunni Muslims, who are the majority in Syria, and members of Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

Juppe said he was worried about the situation in Homs and hoped the Arab League would still be able to convince Damascus to allow observers into the country to provide aid and see what was happening on the ground.

"It is still being discussed and we hope the (Arab League) will achieve it," he said.

The U.N. Security Council agreed on Friday to France's request for a briefing on Syria's crackdown from the U.N. human rights chief, overcoming resistance from Russia, China and Brazil, Western envoys said.

Juppe said Assad had lost all legitimacy and Paris was pushing Russia to change its stance at the United Nations where Moscow has refused to endorse any Security Council resolution against Syria.

"We are trying to convince Russia to get out of the isolation that it's put itself in," he said.

(Editing by Louise Ireland)

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