BERLIN – Lawmakers on Friday approved plans for Germany to take on a direct role in the battle against the Islamic State group in Syria, answering France’s appeal for help after the deadly Paris attacks.
Parliament agreed to the mandate for the deployment of Tornado reconnaissance jets, a frigate and up to 1,200 troops by an overwhelming majority of 445 votes in favour and 146 against.
The green light for the mission that could become Germany’s biggest deployment abroad comes three weeks after militants killed 130 people in a series of attacks in Paris. The atrocities prompted France to invoke a clause requiring EU states to provide military assistance to wipe out the IS group in Iraq and Syria.
Welcoming the German parliament’s decision, French President Francois Hollande said it is “another example of the solidarity between France and Germany.”
Hollande is due to visit the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle in the eastern Mediterranean off Syria where it is being used to conduct air strikes on Islamic State targets.
“He will meet military personnel taking part in operations to intensify the fight against Daesh in Syria and Iraq,” a statement from the presidency said, using another name for the militant group that has claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks.
A broad coalition of 60 countries has been battling IS since August 2014, although involvement in Syria has been more limited with some Western nations wary of how military action could actually end up serving President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which they view as no longer legitimate.
But reticence seemed to have melted away following the Paris attacks, with Britain becoming the latest country to join the US-led bombing campaign over Syria on Thursday, striking an IS-held oil field.
After repeatedly ruling out the use of “boots on the ground”, US President Barack Obama also agreed to send as many as 100 special forces to Iraq, with a mandate to carry out raids inside Syria.
Heavy government bombardment across Syria Friday killed at least 56 civilians, more than a fourth of them children, a monitoring group said.
The bloodiest attack was in Eastern Ghouta, a rebel stronghold east of Damascus, where at least 41 civilians were killed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. “Regime warplanes targeted the towns of Jisreen and Kfar Batna in the Eastern Ghouta region”, leaving 35 killed in those areas, the Britain-based Observatory added.
Six children were among the dead there, and dozens of people were wounded. But the opposition National Coalition, the leading anti-regime group in exile, blamed the Jisreen strikes on Russia. “Russian warplanes targeted a public market leaving 11 killed and 50 wounded” there, the Coalition tweeted.
Another six civilians, including two children, were killed in regime rocket fire on the flashpoint Eastern Ghouta town of Douma, the Observatory said. Government forces regularly bombard Eastern Ghouta, a populated suburb of Damascus largely controlled by the powerful Jaish al-Islam rebel group.
In a video posted by an online activist group in Jisreen, a distressed man in a debris-strewn street screamed: “Syrian flesh for sale!” And footage posted by the local SMART news agency depicted men carrying bloodied victims out of destroyed buildings on stretchers as sirens wailed in the background.
Meanwhile, 11 people, including four children, were killed in government air strikes on the central opposition-held town of Talbisseh, the Observatory said. In the southern province of Daraa, four children were killed when the regime bombarded the town of Hara. And four civilians died in shelling of the town of Sanamayn, 30 kilometres (20 miles) east of Hara. Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman could not specify if that attack was by regime or rebel forces. Syria’s conflict has taken the lives of more than 250,000 people, and another four million have been forced to flee since it erupted in March 2011.
In the Netherlands, which has been bombarding the IS in Iraq, the government too is coming under pressure to widen the aerial campaign to Syria. 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 been largely met with support. An opinion poll in Die Welt newspaper Friday showed broad public backing of 58 percent of people surveyed in favour of the military deployment while 37 percent were against.
The support came despite a large majority of 63 percent believing that the risk of a terror attack on German soil will rise as a result of Bundeswehr involvement in Syria.
Germany’s Justice Minister Heiko Maas said the case for deployment was watertight legally.
“The Germans can be certain that the deployment to Syria neither violates international law nor the constitution,” he told the Tagesspiegel daily on Friday.
“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 said.
The package approved by parliament includes six Tornado aircraft which have no offensive fighter capability and are specialised in air-to-ground reconnaissance.
A German frigate will be deployed to protect the Charles de Gaulle, from which French fighter jets are carrying out bombing runs, and the tanker aircraft could refuel them mid-air to extend their range.
A date has not been set for the deployment which is estimated to cost 134 million euros ($142 million), although Germany and Turkey were already working this week towards a deal to station the Tornados at the southern Turkish air base of Incirlik.
Separately, Germany has also pledged to send 650 soldiers to Mali to provide some relief to French forces battling militants in the west African nation.
But the opposition warned that Germany is being forced to make a weighty decision too hastily.
“We are being made to decide in three days if Germany would once again be dragged into a war. We do not want to be dragged into a war at the speed of a Tornado,” the Left party’s Petra Sitte told parliament.
Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen acknowledged that “this is a dangerous deployment, a difficult deployment”. But she defended the swift action, saying it sends a “signal that we are resolved to fight IS”.