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French defense minister: Extremists in Mali attack near French-held city of Gao

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    Malian children play football where radical Islamists would mutilate people under Sharia law in Gao, northern Mali, Tuesday Feb. 5, 2013. Troops from France and Chad moved into Kidal in an effort to secure the strategic north Malian city, a French official said Tuesday, as the international force put further pressure on the Islamic extremists to push them out of their last major bastion of control in the north.(AP Photo/Jerome Delay)The Associated Press

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    Malian men listen to soldiers in Gao, northern Mali, Tuesday Feb. 5, 2013. Troops from France and Chad moved into Kidal in an effort to secure the strategic north Malian city, a French official said Tuesday, as the international force put further pressure on the Islamic extremists to push them out of their last major bastion of control in the north.(AP Photo/Jerome Delay)The Associated Press

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    FILE - In this Jan. 31, 2013 file photo, Issa Alzouma, 39, poses in front of his home in Gao, northern Mali, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013. Alzouma's arm was amputated by Islamist radicals on Dec. 21, 2012, after an Islamic tribunal charged him with spying. Alzouma, a father of three, denied the charges, and said he was just changing the faulty plug on his motorcycle's engine alongside the road. The extremists fled the city Saturday as French, Chadian and Nigerian troops arrived, ending 10 months of radical Islamic control over the city. But the intervention came too late for Alzouma and the other men who lost their hands and probably their livelihoods, too, when the militants carried out amputations as punishments for theft and other alleged crimes under their strict interpretation of Shariah, or Islamic law. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File)The Associated Press

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    A Malian street child walks in Gao, northern Mali, Tuesday Feb. 5, 2013. Troops from France and Chad moved into Kidal in an effort to secure the strategic north Malian city, a French official said Tuesday, as the international force put further pressure on the Islamic extremists to push them out of their last major bastion of control in the north.(AP Photo/Jerome Delay)The Associated Press

France's defense minister says French forces clashed with extremists firing rocket launchers near the northern Malian city of Gao.

Gao has been held by French-led forces since late January, and the clashes highlight complications for the intervention.

Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Europe-1 radio Wednesday that "it's a real war ... when we go outside of the center of cities that have been taken, we meet residual jihadists."

He said French aircraft are continuing airstrikes every night on suspected militant arms depots and mine-making sites.

France launched a military intervention Jan. 11 against Islamist extremists who had taken over northern Mali and started pushing toward the capital. A U.N.-authorized African force is starting to take over from French forces in cities that were seized at the outset of the intervention.