France’s Hollande to visit aircraft carrier off Syrian coast

France's    sole aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle,
France’s sole aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle,

French President Francois Hollande will visit on Friday military personnel on the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier off the Syrian coast, his office said in a statement.

“He will meet the military involved in intensifying the battle against Daesh (Islamic State) in Syria and Iraq,” the statement said.

The carrier, which has 38 warplanes on board, was deployed to the east Mediterranean just days after Islamic State claimed responsibility for attacks in Paris that killed 130 people on Nov. 13.

The two-hour visit, scheduled to start at 1400 GMT (0900 ET), comes just two days before the first round of regional elections in which Hollande’s ruling Socialist party is expected to be defeated by the conservatives and far-right parties.

Hollande’s popularity rose to its highest level in three years a poll showed on Tuesday, with voters backing his robust handling of the post-attack period.

France was the first country to join US-led air strikes in Iraq and since the Paris attacks it has stepped up its aerial bombing campaign of Islamic State in Syria, focusing especially on its stronghold in Raqqa and oil-related targets.

Over the last week, fighter jets have struck more than 20 times in Iraq supporting local troop advancements in areas near Baiji, Sinjar and around the city of Ramadi, the French army said on Wednesday.

The carrier holds some 1,900 personnel and is accompanied by an attack submarine, several frigates, refueling ships, as well as fighter jets and surveillance aircraft.