French President Francois Hollande (C) reviews troops on France's Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier on December 4, 2015 off the coast of Syria
French President Francois Hollande (C) reviews troops on France's Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier on December 4, 2015 off the coast of Syria 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 jihadists after attacks on Paris in which 130 were killed. © Philippe de Poulpiquet - Pool/AFP
French President Francois Hollande (C) reviews troops on France's Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier on December 4, 2015 off the coast of Syria
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AFP
Last updated: January 1, 1970

France's Hollande visiting aircraft carrier off Syria

President Francois Hollande visited France's aircraft carrier off the coast of Syria on Friday, while German lawmakers approved joining the intensifying fight against Islamic State jihadists.

Three weeks to the day since IS gunmen killed 130 people in Paris, Hollande told the crew of the Charles de Gaulle they were locked "in the struggle that we have undertaken against terrorism" after the "cowardly and terrible attacks".

Hollande ordered the carrier to the eastern Mediterranean after declaring "war" on IS in the wake of the carnage in the French capital and it is at the heart of a stepped-up air campaign against the jihadists in Syria and Iraq.

Hollande said the ship would move from the eastern Mediterranean to the Gulf "in a few days" to relieve a US carrier.

After British jets joined the bombing of IS targets in Syria this week, the German parliament on Friday overwhelmingly agreed to deploy Tornado jets to fly reconnaissance missions.

Germany will also contribute a frigate and up to 1,200 troops, although only a few hundred are likely to be involved at first.

In the highly-charged aftermath of the attacks, France invoked a clause requiring EU states to provide military assistance to wipe out IS in Iraq and Syria, where it has seized control of large swaths of territory.

Welcoming the German parliament's approval -- it voted 445 in favour to 146 against -- Hollande said it was "another example of the solidarity between France and Germany."

A coalition of 60 countries has been battling IS since August 2014, mainly in Iraq.

Many Western countries had been more reluctant to take action in Syria, with many fearing military action could actually help President Bashar al-Assad's regime, which they say can play no role in the future of Syria after a brutal civil war that shows little sign of abating.

But the coordinated attacks by suicide bombers and gunmen in Paris appear to have focused minds.

British lawmakers on Wednesday backed Prime Minister David Cameron's call to help their European allies and Royal Air Force jets struck an IS-held oil field in eastern Syria within hours.

After repeatedly ruling out the use of "boots on the ground", US President Barack Obama has agreed to send as many as 100 special forces to Iraq, with a mandate to carry out raids inside Syria.

Russian planes are also hitting IS targets, but the US accuses Moscow of also bombing other rebel groups to help its ally Assad.

The Russian defence ministry said Friday its planes had struck nearly 1,500 targets all over Syria over the past nine days, with its bombers now protected by fighter jets following the downing of a Russian plane by Turkey last week.

The ministry did not say if any of the targets were IS.

France said Friday its planes had also carried out surveillance flights over Libya, including over the IS stronghold of Sirte, amid fears the group is shifting more of its operations to the chaos-ridden country.

- Broad German support -

Even in Germany, where there has traditionally been reluctance to engage in military missions abroad, the government's decision to take direct action in Syria has broad support.

An opinion poll in Die Welt newspaper Friday showed 58 percent backing for the deployment while 37 percent were against.

The support came despite nearly two-thirds of those questioned saying they believed the risk of a terror attack on German soil will rise as a result of the military action.

Germany's Justice Minister Heiko Maas said the case for action was watertight legally.

"We must stop this terrorist gang of murderers. That will not be achieved with military action alone, but neither would it be achieved without," he told the Tagesspiegel newspaper.

A date has not been set for the German deployment which is estimated to cost 134 million euros ($142 million), although Germany and Turkey were working this week towards a deal to station the Tornados at the Incirlik air base.

Germany has already pledged to send 650 soldiers to Mali to assist French forces battling jihadists in the west African nation.

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