Putin tells Hollande ready for cooperation in fight against terrorism

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SHAFAQNA – French President Francois Hollande and Russian leader Vladimir Putin agreed Thursday to coordinate strikes against Islamic State, but differences over Syria’s future hampered efforts to bring Russia into a wider alliance to fight the jihadists.

Putin indicated France and Russia would swap data to help identify IS targets in Syria, as opposed to other groups opposed to the country’s leader, Bashar al-Assad.

The two countries agreed to “exchange information about which territories are occupied by the healthy part of the opposition rather than terrorists, and will avoid targeting them with our airstrikes,” Putin said.

“The strikes against Daesh (IS) will be intensified and be the object of coordination,” Hollande said at a press conference after their 90-minute meeting at the Kremlin.

The agreement to focus on IS targets was the most concrete progress from the final leg of Hollande’s marathon push to weld together a broad alliance to crush IS after the November 13 terror attacks in Paris.

But the French leader failed to gain any pledge from Putin over helping the US-led coalition which is targeting IS.

Putin is fuming over Turkey’s downing of a Russian fighter on the Syrian border and deep splits remain between Russia and the West over Assad’s fate.

Hollande reiterated that Assad, a key Moscow ally, “has no place in the future of Syria”.

Russia has been flying a bombing campaign in Syria since September 30 at Assad’s request while a rival US-led coalition is carrying out strikes against IS.

Although both Russia and the US coalition oppose IS, Washington and its allies say Moscow is primarily targeting moderates fighting the regime in Damascus, rather than the jihadists.

Prior to his visit to Moscow, Hollande gained support from Britain, whose premier David Cameron set out his case Thursday for air strikes against IS in Syria.

Cameron said Britain should not “wait until an attack takes place here” before acting, saying it was “morally” unacceptable to be “content with outsourcing our security to our allies”.

A vote is expected to be held early next week and MPs look set to approve the move, meaning the first British air strikes on Syria could come within days.

Cameron has also offered France the use of a British air base in Cyprus for flying missions against the jihadists.

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