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US, French journalists killed in besieged Syrian city
A U.S. reporter and French photographer were killed in the besieged Syrian city of Homs when shells hit them while they were reporting from the city, French officials said. The journalists were Marie Colvin of the Sunday Times and photographer Remi Ochlik, Valerie Pecresse, budget minister and spokeswoman for France’s government, told journalists in Paris.
They were killed during a bombardment of the Baba Amr residential neighborhood of the city by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an e-mailed statement.
Government forces have intensified efforts to stamp out the rebellion by using mortars, artillery and tanks. The United Nations estimates more than 5,400 Syrians died last year as loyalist forces cracked down on protests that began in March. More than 8,500 people have been killed since the conflict began in March last year, Mahmoud Merei, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said.
At least 13 people were killed yesterday in Homs after Assad’s forces resumed pounding Baba Amr this morning, the observatory said. Syria’s assault on rebels in Homs and other strongholds including the northern province of Idlib left more than 100 dead yesterday, according to Merei and the Local Coordination Committees, an opposition group with a network of activists in the country.
“Water and food are scarce, the situation is very dire in the Baba Amr neighborhood,” Merei said. He said families from Homs were trying to negotiate a temporary cease-fire with the government to be able to tend and evacuate the wounded, and collect and bury the dead.
“The killing of these well-known journalists is an important and sad issue which attracts much more international attention to this ongoing dilemma in Syria,” said Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai.
Edith Bouvier, reporter for Le Figaro, William Daniels and Paul Conroy, also of the Sunday Times, were injured in the attack that killed Colvin and Ochlik, Syrian activists said. Agence France Presse also reported on Bouvier’s injury, citing Philippe Gelie, head of Figaro’s foreign desk.
Colvin, an American working for Britain’s Sunday Times, was reporting from Homs at the time. She described the death of a young boy at a medical clinic in the city on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 yesterday.
The video footage broadcast during Colvin’s phone interview showed a young child breathing heavily before dying of a shrapnel injury to the chest after his house was shelled. “Every civilian house on the street has been hit,” she said. “The top floor of the building I am in has been hit, in fact totally destroyed. There are no military targets here. The Syrian army is simply shelling a city of cold, starving civilians.” With explosions in the background, another video of a scene posted on Google Inc.’s YouTube shows a man holding a child, stroking his face and chest and vowing to take revenge. The authenticity of the video couldn’t be independently verified by Bloomberg News.
At least three foreign reporters have been killed since the conflict started, Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory, said by telephone.
State television channel France 2 journalist Gilles Jacquier was killed in January while reporting from Homs, the press office of the Paris-based channel said on Jan. 11. Anthony Shadid, a double winner of the Pulitzer Prize, died last week in Syria from an apparent asthma attack while on assignment, the New York Times reported.
“I am asking the Syrian government for an immediate end to the attacks and for respect for humanitarian rules,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said after the death of the two journalists. Syria’s ambassador to France will be told that his government’s behavior is “intolerable,” Juppe said in an e-mailed statement.
European Union governments are moving toward stiffer sanctions on Syria and considering trade restrictions and a freeze on central bank assets. The Arab League has already suspended Syria and imposed economic sanctions. Russia and China blocked a resolution at the Security Council this month, supported by the U.S., EU and Arab League, calling on Assad to step down in favor of an interim government that would hold elections.
Assad accused unidentified foreign interests of providing weapons and financial support to “armed terrorist groups” as they seek to destabilize Syria, the official Syrian Arab News Agency reported Feb. 20. About 40,000 members of Syria’s 270,000-strong security forces have defected, according to Turkish Foreign Ministry estimates. Ministers from the U.S., Europe and Arab nations will attend a summit in Tunisia this week to discuss how to assist the struggle to oust Assad.
The latest deaths show that “this is enough now, this regime must go,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy told reporters near his election campaign headquarters in Paris, AFP reported. “There’s no reason why Syrians shouldn’t have the right to live their lives, to choose their destiny freely.” Bloomberg
Colvin: An intrepid war reporter
Killed in action
Respected American war reporter Marie Colvin, who covered conflicts from Sri Lanka to Syria and stood up for the importance of independent journalism, died in a shelling attack in Syria. She was in her 50s. Known for getting close to the story and for courage behind the front lines, Colvin had been holed up in the besieged city of Homs with the French photojournalist.
Colvin, from Oyster Bay, New York, had been a foreign correspondent for Britain’s Sunday Times for the past two decades, making a specialty of reporting from the world’s most dangerous places. She lost the sight in one eye during an ambush in Sri Lanka in 2001 — but promised not to “hang up my flak jacket,” and kept reporting on the world’s most troubled places.
“So, was I stupid? Stupid I would feel writing a column about the dinner party I went to last night,” she wrote in the Sunday Times after the attack. “Equally, I’d rather be in that middle ground between a desk job and getting shot, no offense to desk jobs.
“For my part, the next war I cover, I’ll be more awed than ever by the quiet bravery of civilians who endure far more than I ever will. They must stay where they are; I can come home to London.”
Easily recognizable for her black eye patch, Colvin was known for focusing on the plight of women and children in wartime. In an interview with the BBC on Tuesday, she vividly recounted the death of an infant in Syria.
“I watched a little baby die,” she said. “Absolutely horrific, a 2-year old child had been hit. They stripped it and found the shrapnel had gone into the left chest and the doctor said ‘I can’t do anything.’”
Colvin worked in the Balkans, where she went on patrol with the Kosovo Liberation Army as it engaged Serb military forces. She worked in Chechnya, where she was repeatedly attacked by Russian jets while reporting on Chechen rebels. She also covered the conflict in East Timor after its people voted for independence.
Ochlik: A rising star in photojournalism
She was outspoken in her defense of independent journalism, and a fervent advocate for the cause of war reporting. During a tribute service at Fleet Street’s St. Bride’s Church in November 2010, she offered a stirring appeal to media executives, pressing the case to continue investing in conflict zone reportage. ap
“Our mission is to speak the truth to power,” she said. “We send home that first rough draft of history. We can and do make a difference in exposing the horrors of war and especially the atrocities that befall civilians.”
Remi Ochlik, a rising star of French photojournalism who covered riots in Haiti and the upheaval sweeping across the Arab world was killed Wednesday in a shelling attack in Syria.
French officials said the 28-year-old native of eastern France who founded the photo agency IP3 Press was killed along with U.S. war reporter Marie Colvin after Syrian forces besieged the central city of Homs.
Ochlik (Osh-LEEK)’s photo last year from Ras Lanouf in Libya of an opposition fighter on a mound under a rebellion flag against smoky skies won him first prize in the 2012 World Press Photo contest for general news.
IP3’s website said Ochlik also covered rebellions in Tunisia and Egypt last year and his work has featured in publications including Paris Match and Time magazines as well as The Wall Street Journal.
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