French President Fran­çois Hollande has clearly expressed his support for a strong response against the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons. This position is based on a critical set of convergent circumstantial evidence stating that the Damascus regime was responsible for the attack on August 21.

This can be seen by the sheer scale and operational characteristics of the attack, by the evidence that regions where shots had been fired belonged to the regime; by the heavily affected regions which were all occupied by the opposition; by the preparation efforts of the regime forces before the operation and the concealment of their actions afterwards. Our close partners also share the same belief.

In order to ensure transparency, the French government decided to share any information that has been made available, and made public on September 2 a series of declassified documents from the Ministry of Defence including a detailed analysis of the existing capacities of the Syrian regime as well as amateur video footage shot immediately after the attacks.

These are indeed unspeakable acts and the images showing the suffering of dozens of dying children are unsustainable.

Chemical weapons are of a completely different nature to conventional weapons. Chemical wea­pons are not weapons of war, but weapons of terror and barbarism.

They aren’t aimed at soldiers, but at populations. They aim to suffocate, asphyxiate and produce dying bodies, dehumanised corpses.

Those who are lucky to survive will suffer from irreversible damage. Once used, they are insidious, indiscriminate and durable.

Their only purpose is to inflict suffering on the population, particularly among its most fragile components: women and children.

This is the weapon used by cowards against the weak. Furthermore, the devastating chemical weaponry being used by the regime has been banned by all inter­national conventions since the signing of the Geneva Protocol in 1925. A government cannot use them without being banished from the community of nations.

The use of these weapons has been strictly condemned by the vast majority of the international community and this view is equally shared by the Maltese government, having already made several very clear statements in this regard.

However, the moral and political condemnation of the Syrian regime is not enough. Indeed, the consequences of these attacks on the security of the region, and beyond on our collective security, are considerable.

If nothing is done to address the chemical massacre, the impunity benefited by Bashar al-Assad may prove as a strong incentive to recommit these atrocities whenever he deems it necessary, and to continue his approach of attaining victory through the use of weapons.

Chemical weapons aim to suffocate, asphyxiate and produce dying bodies

Any political solution in Syria seems impossible as both the regime and the opposition would refuse to sit at the negotiating table.

With each day that passes, the current war of attrition will continue to destabilise Syria’s neighbouring countries, where the conflict is also rapidly spreading.

This can already be seen by the attacks in Lebanon; by the large influx of Syrian refugees to Jordan and Turkey and by the outbreak of deadly violence in Iraq. This civil war now threatens world peace.

What is at stake in this conflict goes far beyond Syria and its immediate neighbours.

It also refers to the credibility of our commitments against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction throughout the world.

By failing to react, we would be sending the signal to proliferating states that they are allowed to use or proliferate such weapons with impunity.

Only a strong response would most likely be able to show the regime that the solution is not to “liquidate” the opposition, as Assad told the French press on September 2, and to avoid further destabilisation in the region.

However, leaving the situation to deteriorate on the ground and letting such crimes go unpunished will only further destabilise it.

A political solution in Syria – which remains for us, as for Malta and all our European partners, the only possible one – means that the regime understands that it cannot win by the force of arms. A regime that is confident of being militarily victorious will not engage in a process of political transition.

France remains committed to international legality. It is not a question of breaking off with the UN Security Council. It is a question of breaking the deadlock. The Security Council has a major role to play in the definition process and the conduct of a political solution.

France has been acting for more than two years. It took numerous initiatives on Syria within the Security Council, the General Assembly of the United Nations and the Council of Human Rights.

Furthermore, it launched ‘The Group of Friends of the Syrian People’, which gathered for the first time in Paris in July 2012.

Last September, France was the first country to recognise the National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. France has also been extremely quick at providing the opposition with humanitarian aid and support to assist its action.

In light of these latest attacks, France has decided to increase its military support to the Syrian National Coalition, in accordance with its European commitments.

The French government is now convinced that only a firm and rapid response to these chemical attacks would pave the way to a political solution for tomorrow’s Syria. The idea is not to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The idea is to sanction and deter.

This is a warning shot, not a prelude to war. Our intention is to change the political dynamics in this region and to put an end to the regime’s sense of impunity.

Michel Vandepoorter is France’s Ambassador to Malta.

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