Two wounded journalists safely escape Syria

By Staff Reporter
AFP European Edition

Feb 28, 2012 12:29 EST

Wounded British photographer Paul Conroy and French reporter Edith Bouvier, who had been trapped in the besieged Syrian city of Homs, were both safe in Lebanon on Tuesday, officials said, as Syrian forces pounded the city for a 25th straight day.

"The information we have is that both arrived overnight in Lebanon," a Lebanese official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Paul Conroy is at the British embassy and in good condition. Edith Bouvier is also here in Lebanon but we have no information as to where she is exactly."

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, confirmed the news of the escape of Le Figaro newspaper journalist Bouvier, who has multiple fractures, and told reporters he was "very happy that the nightmare had come to an end."

The Foreign Office in London said freelance photographer Conroy was "receiving full consular assistance from our embassy."

Thirteen activists were killed trying to help the Western journalists and to bring in aid to the Homs rebel stronghold Baba Amr, international activist group Avaaz said.

UN officials called for an immediate ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid into violence-torn regions of Syria, where the United Nations now says well over 7,500 people have been killed.

The death toll in the Syrian government crackdown is now "certainly well over 7,500," B Lynn Pascoe, UN undersecretary general for political affairs, told the Security Council on Tuesday.

The international community's failure to "stop the carnage" is encouraging the Syrian government to believe that it can act with "impunity," Pascoe said.

But US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that declaring Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a war criminal could "complicate" a solution to the crisis.

"I also think that from long experience that can complicate a resolution of a difficult, complex situation because it limits options to persuade leaders perhaps to step down from power," Clinton told a Senate hearing.

Earlier, a spokeswoman for Britain's Sunday Times newspaper said Conroy was "in good shape and good spirits" following his escape.

A father of three, Conroy was working for the weekly during a rocket attack on February 22 on a makeshift media centre in Baba Amr.

His family expressed relief.

"I have spoken to Paul this morning and he sounded in good spirits. The family is overjoyed and relieved that he is safe and look forward to getting him home," his wife Kate said in a statement.

Avaaz's Wissam Tarif said the organisation coordinated his rescue from the battered city in central Syria and across the border.

"Avaaz coordinated with Syrian activists Conroy's exit from Homs and his arrival in Lebanon," Tarif told AFP in Beirut.

US veteran reporter Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed in last week's rocket attack in Homs while Bouvier and Conroy were wounded.

Two other journalists trapped in Homs are William Daniels, a photographer also on assignment for Le Figaro, and Spaniard Javier Espinosa, who works for Spanish daily El Mundo.

A Lebanese activist said Conroy, 47, had been smuggled through an illegal crossing into northern Lebanon's Wadi Khaled region "after midnight on motorbikes."

The Syrian Red Crescent and international Red Cross had been trying for days to rescue the wounded pair and to retrieve the bodies of the dead but conditions were deemed too dangerous.

On Tuesday rescuers from the two aid agencies left Homs after another failed attempt, officials from both organisations said.

Red Crescent spokesman Abdel Rahman Attar told AFP negotiations were held through an intermediary, a Muslim cleric who asked for food and medical supplies for Bab Amr resident.

"We asked in return to meet the journalists, but he refused," Attar added.

Activists of the Syrian Revolution 2011 Facebook page said Baba Amr was "bombarded for the 25th straight day by regime forces" on Tuesday.

"The shells are falling and the world watches," said an activist in a video showing columns of black smoke rising from bombed buildings.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 11 civilians died on Tuesday in Baba Amr, while five Syrian soldiers were killed in clashes with deserters in the southern province of Daraa.

Activists also reported that thousands of mourners took to the streets of the Damascus on Tuesday for the funerals of civilians killed in the regime's crackdown on dissent.

UN rights chief Pillay urged a ceasefire at the opening of an urgently arranged debate on Syria at a Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva on Tuesday.

"There must be an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to end the fighting and bombardments," said Pillay.

Western powers have said the violence called into question the veracity of a referendum held at the weekend, which Damascus said resulted in almost 90 percent of voters approving a new constitution.

The charter brought in Assad after 11 months of anti-regime protests won 89.4 percent of votes cast in Sunday's referendum, with a turnout of 57.4 percent, Interior Minister Mohammed al-Shaar announced.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland dismissed the referendum as "cynical" while the Syrian opposition said changes in the new constitution are only cosmetic.

The draft text of the constitution ends the legal basis for the five-decade stranglehold on power of Assad's ruling Baath party but still leaves huge powers in his hands.

Source: AFP European Edition

 

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