Hollande visits aircraft carrier off Syrian coast


French President Francois Hollande (C) and French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (L) arrive by helicopter on the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier deployed in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Syria, December 4, 2015.

President Francois Hollande arrived Friday on France’s Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier to meet air crews launching strikes on Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an AFP journalist said.

Hollande is expected to give a speech to the crew of the carrier which is off the coast of Syria, three weeks after he declared “war” on the militants after attacks on Paris in which 130 were killed.

The carrier, which has 38 warplanes on board, was deployed to the east Mediterranean just days after Islamic State claimed responsibility for attacks in Paris that killed 130 people on Nov. 13.

The two-hour visit, scheduled to start at 1400 GMT, comes just two days before the first round of regional elections in which Hollande’s ruling Socialist party is expected to be defeated by the conservatives and far-right parties.

Hollande’s popularity rose to its highest level in three years a poll showed on Tuesday, with voters backing his robust handling of the post-attack period.

France was the first country to join U.S.-led air strikes in Iraq and since the Paris attacks it has stepped up its aerial bombing campaign of ISIS in Syria, focusing especially on its stronghold in Raqqa and oil-related targets.

Over the last week, fighter jets have struck more than 20 times in Iraq supporting local troop advancements in areas near Baiji, Sinjar and around the city of Ramadi, the French army said on Wednesday.

The carrier holds some 1,900 personnel and is accompanied by an attack submarine, several frigates, refueling ships, as well as fighter jets and surveillance aircraft.


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