14 Jan 2013

French military strikes key Mali town

9:17 pm on 14 January 2013

French warplanes have bombed a key town in Mali, on the third day of operations against Islamist rebels who hold the north of the country.

France's military has been in action against Islamist militants in Mali since Friday, helping government forces recapture the central town of Konna.

Hundreds of troops from neighbouring west African states are also preparing to intervene.

The latest French air strike targeted the town of Gao - an important base for Islamist fighters, the BBC reports.

Witnesses said the airport and several other sites were hit and that many rebels had abandoned the town.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the Islamist advance in Mali had been brought to a halt.

Mr Fabius made it clear that France was now targeting Islamist bases in the north and said Algeria, which shares a long border with Mali, had given permission for its air space to be used for bombing raids.

However, he France's direct military involvement would be short-term. "It's only for a matter of weeks. Later on, we can offer back-up, but we have no intention of staying forever."

Gao mayor Sadou Harouna Diallo, who is now living in the capital Bamako, says he welcomes the intervention.