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Dutch to decide 'by January' on Syria air strikes: PM

AFP , Friday 11 Dec 2015
Rutte
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (Photo: Reuters)
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The Netherlands will not decide until next year whether to join US-led air strikes in Syria, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Friday after America urged the Dutch to step up their effort.

"We are taking our time (with the decision). Certainly not before Christmas and hopefully in January," Rutte told a press conference after the weekly cabinet meeting.

Last week Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders told lawmakers the country had received letters from both France and the United States requesting The Hague to join in the air strikes in Syria.

Efforts against the Islamic State group, which holds a swathe of territory in Iraq and Syria, have intensified in the wake of the November 13 attacks in Paris in which 130 people died.

Koenders also spoke last week to US Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been leading efforts to bolster the US-led coalition fighting the jihadist group.

"There is a case building whether we should bomb supply lines in Syria," Rutte told reporters Friday.

"But at the same time you also have to talk about the de-escalation of the conflict and all of this has to be brought into balance," Rutte said.

"These are serious questions and we are looking at them carefully."

The Netherlands is already participating in the coalition by carrying out air strikes in Iraq, with four F-16 aircraft specialising in close air support of ground operations by Iraqi forces.

Several centre-right and right-wing lawmakers have called for strikes in Syria and Rutte's own ruling Liberal VVD party has said it would support such a cabinet decision.

The Netherlands' top military chief, General Tom Middendorp has also backed a stepped up bombing campaign.

But the government's junior coalition partner, the Labour party (PvdA), is against.

The four Dutch F-16 jet fighters have been pounding IS jihadists in Iraq since October 2014, but The Hague at the time said it would not carry out air strikes over Syria without a UN mandate.

Observers have said Britain's decision to join France and the US in air strikes against IS over Syria last week put further pressure on the Dutch to join the campaign.

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