Jihadists in Mali have seized a central town as they push southwards. The developments followed assurances from France that Mali rebel advancements had been halted after airstrikes in the north of the country.
Islamist rebels battling to take control of Mali on Monday took the town of Diabaly, in the center of the country, according to the French defense ministry.
The developments come after jihadists launched a counter-offensive earlier in the day against Malian government forces backed by French air raids and ground troops. The latter alliance has been trying to prevent Islamist rebels, who already have control of northern Mali, from pushing southwards.
And the news also comes despite earlier assurances from French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Sunday that the Islamist rebels had been largely seen off. "Blocking the terrorists, that's done," Fabius told RTL radio and LCI television in an interview. "What we started today was taking care of the terrorists' strongholds."
Fabius added that Gao, one of three northern Malian towns captured last year by the al Qaeda-linked rebels, was one of the strongholds that had been targeted.
Defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had also told i-Tele channel that the strikes were to prepare the ground for a combined Malian and African force to retake control of the country by attacking rebel camps, infrastructure and warehouses.
Stopping the rebel advancement
The Malian army is fighting Islamist rebels on the ground, and several West African states - including Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Niger - have pledged to send troops in support.
France launched an aerial campaign Friday at Mali's request to help stop the rebels from advancing south towards the capital of Bamako.
On Sunday, four Rafale jets sent from France began a military engagement along with Mirage jets and helicopters.
Meanwhile, Germany said on Monday that it was considering its options to help the French mission in Mali. "Such support could come in the field of logistics, medical support or humanitarian support," said a spokesman for the foreign ministry at a government news conference.
Algeria, which shares a 2,000 km (1,242 mile) border with Mali, has already offered the French military full use of its airspace, according to the country's foreign ministry.
Uncertainty in Somalia
Elsewhere in Africa, a French soldier, who was allegedly captured and wounded in a failed attempt by French forces to rescue a French security agent held hostage by al-Shabab in Somalia has died from the gunshot injuries he sustained, according to a rebel military spokesperson.
"The second commando died from his bullet wounds. We shall display the bodies of the two Frenchmen," Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, spokesman for al Shabab, said to Reuters by telephone. Musab added that the hostage , Denis Allex, who has been held hostage since 2009, was alive, and his captors would decide his fate later.
Despite al-Shabab’s claims, the French defense ministry has said it believes the French hostage to have died in the failed rescue attempt on Saturday.
sej/msh (dpa, Reuters, AFP)