Two western journalists die in Syria


TWO WESTERN journalists were among a reported 17 people killed yesterday during Syrian army shelling of the rebel-held Bab Amr quarter in the Syrian city of Homs.

US-born Marie Colvin of Britain’s Sunday Timesand French photographer Remi Ochlik died when a media centre was hit.

British photojournalist Paul Conroy and Édith Bouvier of the French newspaper Le Figarowere wounded. All had entered Syria from Lebanon, crossing the border with smugglers. Syrian blogger-activist Rami al-Sayyed also died. He had posted video of events in Homs online.

“The authorities had no information that the two journalists had entered Syrian territory,” said Syrian information minister Adnan Mahmoud.

The Syria-based Local Co-ordination Committees said 27 young men had been taken prisoner and executed when government troops swept villages for rebels in Idlib province in the north.

French foreign minister Alain Juppé called for an immediate halt to attacks on Homs and urged the Syrian government to grant access to humanitarian aid for civilians. “France is more determined than ever to end the savage repression that the Syrian people are experiencing every day,” he said. French TV journalist Gilles Jacquier was killed in Homs last month.

Bab Amr, a western quarter of the central city of Homs, has been under siege since February 3rd and has come under strong pressure over the past week as the military has tried to oust defectors allied to the Free Syrian Army and local anti-regime militias.

The US and Russia have given their backing to the demand by the Red Cross for a daily two-hour ceasefire to permit volunteers from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to evacuate wounded, treat the less seriously injured and deliver supplies to civilians trapped by fighting.

Although the Obama administration has so far opposed arming rebels, state department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said “if we can’t get Assad to yield to pressure . . . we may have to consider additional measures”. This has been taken as a hint that the US would back external support for Syrian insurgents if the government persists with military operations against rebels.

Paris-based Syrian National Council (SNC) spokeswoman Basma Kodmani followed up this indication. “We are really close to seeing this military intervention as the only solution.”

Her statement came hours after Al-Safir, a Lebanese daily, published the text of a declaration calling for training and arming of rebel forces. The document is due to be issued by Friday’s high-level gathering in Tunis of the Friends of Syria contact group. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton are among 70 figures slated to attend the meeting.

The SNC view is opposed by other opposition organisations. Mona Ghanem of Damascus-based Building the Syrian State said she did not think military intervention would help protect civilians. “It might create divisions in Syrian society. If there is military intervention some of the people will fight with one side and some with the other.”