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French press review 22 May 2015

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Worries about treasures of the ancient world following the seizure of the Syrian city of Palmyra by Islamic State group jihadists feature in the French press, as does the failure of Washington's strategy in the region. The puzzle over what the West should do next in Syria and Iraq and job losses in France's nuclear industry also make headlines.


Today's French papers are all singing from the same hymn sheet - almost - which is seldom the case.

All are deeply disturbed by the news from Syria that Palmyra, an architectural gem of the ancient world, has been captured by jihadist fighters of the Islamic State militant group.

The city, which dates back to 2000 BC, is an irreplaceable treasure and an archaeological wonderland littered with the remnants of successive civilisations, from Assyrian, via Greek and Roman, Byzantine, Arab and Ottoman.

None of that impresses the Islamic State Sunni Muslim fundamentalists.

To them, such relics are idolatry and fit only for the bulldozer or the sledgehammer.

Or, for stuff that's portable and saleable in the murky world of antiquities, a handy source of revenue.

On top of that, Palmyra is a little more than 200 kilometres from the Syrian capital Damascus.

Le Figaro calls the loss of the city a nightmare and reminds readers that it is a strategic crossroads and that Islamic State insurgents now control half of Syria.

What's more, it opens a corridor into the neighbouring Iraqi province of Anbar, large parts of which are under IS control.

In something of an understatement, Le Figaro notes that the loss of Palmyra is a failure of the US strategy seeking to contain IS.

Washington's primary concern, says the right-wing paper, is saving Iraq, and it no longer knows who to support in Syria now that the so-called "moderate" rebels have dropped their mask and are siding with Al-Qaeda.

The moment of truth is fast approaching, the paper says. Soon IS forces will be at the dates of Damascus.

How many more lives and treasures will be lost before the West chooses who to support and agrees on a common strategy?

The Catholic daily La Croix concludes that in the space of one week the capture by IS extremists of Ramadi in Iraq followed by Palmyra in Syria has changed the perception of the war in the region.

Even handed as ever, the paper interviews one Aron Lund, a Syria expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Lund paints a fairly grim picture and says he supports the view that Washington has backed the wrong horse in the Syria conflict.

Notwithstanding recent set-backs on the battlefield the regime of President Bashar al-Assad still enjoys the support of Iran and Russia, powerful allies.

If Assad exits the scene the likely consequence is not peace but rather it is even greater chaos and misery, the paper says.

Left-leaning Libération states the obvious: The fall of Palmyra is a disaster and reveals the impotence of the struggle against the jihadists.

Western air strikes against IS have not been enough to stop them. The West must support the Sunnis in Iraq and the rebels in Syria, the paper says.

The leaders of countries engaged in the war against IS are to meet in Paris on 2 June to figure out what to do next.

Communist L'Humanité headlines with events in Syria and notes, with just a suggestion of 'we told you so', that the US strategy there has failed.

The paper's lede story is closer to home on the trial and tribulations of France's nuclear industry.

The nuclear giant Areva is in danger, the paper says. No need to panic. This is not about meltdowns. Predictably, it's about job losses - 4,000 jobs are at risk according to L'Humanité - and the fury of several trade unions.

True to form, the paper also highlights health workers' demonstrations against cuts to France's excellent and ruinously expensive health service.

The comrades at L'Humanité are not persuaded of the necessity to reign in extravagant state spending. Soak the rich and there'll be a chicken in every pot, they say.

A delicious vision of utopia. And, about as likely as snowflakes in July.