A group of French government delegates met with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad on 25 February, amid growing calls in European political circles for the West to re-open communication channels with the dictator they largely discarded in 2012. France officially broke ties with Syria in 2012, closing its embassy in the country.

"We met Bashar al-Assad for a good hour. It went very well," said Jacques Myard, as cited by AFP news agency.

"The objective is to understand Assad's regime better, because we don't believe we can fight Islamic State without Syria," he told BFM TV.

The trip was "in no way an official French initiative," said government spokesman Stephane Le Foll, while the foreign ministry said the visit did not amount to delivering an "official message" from Paris to Damascus.

The Syrian state news agency SANA said the meeting had focused on "challenges facing Arab and European regions, particularly with regard to terrorism."

It cited Assad as saying that Damascus was "always encouraging cooperation between states as the most effective way to stop the expansion of terrorism and eliminate it."

The French delegation, consisting of four MPs from across the French political spectrum, are part of France-Syria parliamentary friendship groups.

More than 200,000 people have been killed since the Syrian uprising in 2011 escalated into a civil war, with regional players backing opposite sides and prolonging the violence.

France, along with Britain and the United States, are officially opposed to restoring ties with the Syrian government. However, Assad has repeatedly reached out to the international community in order to unite an attack on the so-called Islamic State and terrorism.