Two Western journalists were among the 80 people killed in the central Syrian city of Homs on Wednesday, as the government continued to shell it for the 19th day straight. American-born and award-winning journalist Marie Colvin, who was working for the The Sunday Times, and French photographer Rémi Ochlik were killed when an artillery shell hit the house they were staying in, where there was a makeshift media center. Also injured were Irish photographer Paul Conroy who was accompanying Colvin and French journalist Edith Bouvier, who works for the newspaper Le Figaro; Bouvier is said to be bleeding profusely and could die without receiving proper medical care soon.
Citizen Journalist Rami el-Sayed Killed on Tuesday
On Tuesday, citizen journalist Rami el-Sayed was killed while trying to help a family fleeing in a car. He had posted over 800 videos of the assault on the Sunni Arab neighborhood of Baba Amr in Homs on his YouTube channel, Syria Pioneer, and also provided a live broadcast on the video streaming website, Bambuser. His brother has posted a video on the channel of his body, wounded by shrapnel, in a makeshift clinic in Baba Amr. He had posted his final words on Tuesday night:
“Baba Amr is being exterminated. Do not tell me our hearts are with you because I know that. We need campaigns everywhere across the world and inside the country. People should protest in front of embassies and everywhere. Because in hours, there will be no more Baba Amr. And I expect this message to be my last.”
In Memoriam Marie Colvin and Rémi Ochlik
Ochlik was in his late 20s and had covered wars in Haiti, Congo and the Middle East. He had won first prize in the 2012 World Press Photo contest for this photo of a rebel fighter in Libya.
Colvin’s last article for The Sunday Times was published on Sunday. Entitled We live in fear of a massacre, it is a wrenching witness to the human devastation in Homs, with people being killed while foraging for food in the coldest winter in years and almost every family having lost someone. Colvin described 300 women and children in their refuge, a wood factory cellar; the children have not been out since February 4 and a baby born in the cellar has been fed sugar and water as her mother, Fatima, is too traumatized to breast-feed after her family’s house was flattened by an artillery shell.
Colvin described how she made her way into Homs:
I entered Homs on a smugglers’ route, which I promised not to reveal, climbing over walls in the dark and slipping into muddy trenches. Arriving in the darkened city in the early hours, I was met by a welcoming party keen for foreign journalists to reveal the city’s plight to the world. So desperate were they that they bundled me into an open truck and drove at speed with the headlights on, everyone standing in the back shouting “Allahu akbar” — God is the greatest. Inevitably, the Syrian army opened fire.
When everyone had calmed down I was driven in a small car, its lights off, along dark empty streets, the danger palpable. As we passed an open stretch of road, a Syrian army unit fired on the car again with machineguns and launched a rocket-propelled grenade. We sped into a row of abandoned buildings for cover.
Colvin’s last post was on a web forum Tuesday night in which she wrote:
“I think the reports of my survival may be exaggerated. In Baba Amr. Sickening, cannot understand how the world can stand by and I should be hardened by now. Watched a baby die today. [Colvin also described the horror of seeing the two-year-old child die in an interview with the BBC.] Shrapnel, doctors could do nothing. His little tummy just heaved and heaved until he stopped. Feeling helpless. As well as cold! Will keep trying to get out the information.”
Colvin had covered wars and conflict in the Middle East, Chechnya, the Balkans, Iraq and Sri Lanka, where she lost her left eye to shrapnel. There have been tributes all day to her and her bravery. Sunday Times editor John Witherow described her as too experienced to take “reckless risks” and as “somebody who was fun, full of life with joie de vivre and friends all over the world.”
Were Western Journalists in Syria Targeted?
Witherow also said to the BBC that Colvin may have been targeted. The Syrian government has only rarely granted foreign journalists visas to the country and then closely surveilled their activities. As the New York Times says,
…the latest deaths of journalists, on top of the agonizing civilian toll, focused a new wave of international revulsion and anger on Mr. Assad and the Syria government. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France said the killings showed that “enough is enough, this regime must go. There is no reason why Syrians should not have the right to live their lives, to freely choose their destiny.”
Jean-Pierre Perrin, senior foreign correspondent at the French daily Libération, told the Guardian that he had been with Colvin several days ago in Homs. They had both left as they had been warned that the Syrian army was “planning a major offensive” and might “target” reporters; Colvin had returned as the assault had not occurred after some days:
Perrin told Libération that the press centre, which had a generator and a patchy internet connection, was the only means of informing the outside world of what was happening in the city. “If the press centre were destroyed, there would be no more information out of Homs.”
Perrin said the Syrian army recommended “killing any journalist that stepped on Syrian soil”. He said the journalists had been aware of this, and of reports of intercepted communications between Syrian officers that recommended killing all journalists found between the Libyan border and Homs, and making out they had been killed in combat between terrorist groups.
A number of journalists have been killed during the Syrian uprising including two freelance cameramen, Ferzat Jarban and Basil al-Sayed; French television reporter, Gilles Jacquier; and freelance reporter Mazhar Tayyara. New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid died last Thursday from asthma while attempting to leave Syria after spending a week in the country.
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