PARIS -- French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told the National Assembly on Wednesday that France must take action in the face of Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons.
Opening a parliamentary debate on the possibility of military intervention in Syria, where the government of President Bashar Assad is suspected of launching a chemical weapons strike on civilians last month, Ayrault said he hoped France's position would be supported by other European countries and those in the Middle East, including members of the Arab League.
"In the early hours of Aug. 21, a few kilometers from the center of Damascus, nearly 1,500 civilians, including hundreds of children, died, asphyxiated by the Syrian regime in what is, so far this century, the most massive and the most terrifying use of chemical weapons," Ayrault told lawmakers.
"In the face of barbarity, passiveness cannot be an option, not for France in any case."
French President Francois Hollande has made the choice of "legitimate, collective and considered action," Ayrault said, adding that the action had to be "firm and proportional."
"To not react is to let Bashar al-Assad continue his atrocities, to encourage the proliferation and use of weapons of massive destruction, to abandon Syria and the whole region to chaos, and to give in to threats," Ayrault said.
"France will not act alone and will link its actions to those of other partners, beginning with the United States. We are also counting on the support of Europeans and countries in the region, especially those at the heart of the Arab League.
Christian Jacob, the head of the opposition Union for a Popular Movement, or UMP, responded that the alleged chemical attack was "barbarous, savage and inhuman." However, Jacob criticized what he described as the president's and government's "diplomatic and military dead end."
"Can France seriously launch itself head first into an adventure of this kind without any European ally?" Jacob asked. "We don't think so."
He said France was more isolated than it had ever been and had been reduced to the role of mere "spectator to what will happen on Sept. 9 in Washington," referring to an expected congressional vote on intervention in Syria.
No vote on military action is expected after the French Parliament finishes its debate.