France backs no-fly zone in Syria
France indicated that it would consider supporting a partial no-fly zone over Syria, turning the screws on President Bashar al-Assad's regime as fighting spilled into Lebanon yesterday stroking fears of a spillover of bloodshed in the region.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian however warned that shutting all of Syria's air space would mean "going to war" and would require a willing international coalition that has not yet materialized.
Speaking on France 24 television, Le Drian called for considering a partial closure of Syria's air space, as suggested by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius also indicated separately in a press conference that France was weighing a possible no-fly zone.
In his interview, Le Drian stressed that France would not accept a political transition in Syria without Assad stepping down.
Hillary said earlier this month that the issue of imposing safety and no-fly zones around ravaged cities such as Aleppo "need greater in-depth analysis." She said Turkey and the United States had agreed to deliberate further moves.
Syrian ally Russia has rejected the proposal.
Meanwhile, the UN yesterday said the number of refugees fleeing civil war in Syria has surged to over 200,000, as fighter jets and tanks reportedly unleashed deadly new raids in hotspots across the country.
Warplanes and artillery again pounded the northern hub of Aleppo and at least 21 civilians were killed in an air strike and shelling in the eastern town of Mayadin, a watchdog said.
Lakhdar Brahimi, the new envoy on the conflict, was due to meet UN chief Ban Ki-moon later on Friday, with the world powers still deeply divided over how to end a conflict that is also heightening tensions in neighbouring countries.
Lebanon was rattled again by new fighting between rival pro-and anti-Assad communities in the northern city of Tripoli yesterday, with 14 people killed since Monday, adding to fears of a spillover of the Syria conflict.
A sniper killed Sunni cleric Sheikh Khaled al-Baradei, 28, at dawn, sparking the flare-up between fighters from the pro-Syrian Alawite district of Jabal Mohsen and neighbouring anti-Damascus Sunni districts, an AFP correspondent reported.
The militiamen exchanged rocket-propelled grenade as well as small arms fire in the two neighbourhoods in the east of the city, Lebanon's second largest, sparking several large blazes, the correspondent reported.
The fighting continued until around 8:30am when militiamen on both sides pulled back from the frontline and a fragile calm returned.
Earlier this week, hundreds of soldiers with tanks and military vehicles deployed on the aptly named Syria Street -- which acts both as a dividing line between the rival neighbourhoods and as the frontline when fighting erupts.
A wave of kidnappings preceded the latest round of violence and rattled the already fragile security situation in Lebanon, which lived under three decades of Syrian domination.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said August is already the deadliest single month of the conflict with more than 4,000 people killed in barely three weeks, and an overall death toll of around 24,500.