France is pulling out its military forces from Iraq as French forces are increasingly called upon to help fight the coronavirus at home.

The chief of staff of the French armed forces said in a statement that France is suspending its anti-terrorism training operations in Iraq and also bringing home its Iraq-based troops involved in the US-led coalition against Isis (Islamic State).

France, which has suffered repeated attacks on its soil by Isis extremists, is maintaining military operations in Kuwait and Qatar, and air force missions over Syria.

The announcement came just after French President Emmanuel Macron launched a special military operation to support efforts to treat people infected with the new virus.

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France plans to deploy helicopter carriers in its overseas territories, and has transported the sick on military planes and an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean.

The French military also built a field hospital in the eastern city of Mulhouse, located in the region of France hardest-hit by the outbreak.

France had almost 26,000 confirmed cases as of today and the fifth-largest number of virus-related deaths in the world at more than 1300.

A man jogs in an empty Paris street.
A man jogs in an empty Paris street.

From famed Gothic cathedrals to modest village churches, places of worship around France rang their bells in collective prayer today for people who have died and those who are helping keep the sick alive during the coronavirus pandemic.

The pews stood empty because the faithful, like most of the French population, are confined at their homes. But believers and non-believers joined the expression of communion by lighting candles in windows as the sun set over the Eiffel Tower and monumental churches.

France's bishops called for Catholics and non-Catholics to take part in the candle-lighting in a shared "prayer for the dead, the sick and their loved ones, for all the medical personnel and all those who make the life of our country possible."

The gesture was timed for the Christian celebration of the feast of the Annunciation, which marks the day when the archangel Gabriel told Mary she would have a child. Christmas comes nine months later.

A woman and her children applaud after they set up candles on their balcony in Versailles.
A woman and her children applaud after they set up candles on their balcony in Versailles.
The candles set up on the balcony in Versailles, near Paris.
The candles set up on the balcony in Versailles, near Paris.

The Grand Mosque of Lyon also was lit up specially. A prayer read out from the minaret requested support for hospital staffs and workers keeping other public services running during the nationwide health emergency.

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The mosque's imam praised those "who, despite the gravity of the health situation, are fighting with courage and humility to face down this epidemic that is touching all the French people."

As night fell in the Paris suburb of Le Pecq, the Rev. Emmanuel Gougaud pushed a button to set the bells ringing in St Pauline Church.

To ensure the bells did not attract a crowd, the priest then locked himself inside, and celebrated Mass, all alone.

-AP