Two wounded journalists safely escape Syria
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.”
Thirteen activists were killed trying to help the Western journalists and to bring in aid to Baba Amr, international activist group Avaaz said.
News of Conroy’s dramatic escape came as UN rights chief Navi Pillay called for an immediate ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid in to violence-torn regions of Syria.
Earlier, a spokeswoman for Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper said Conroy was “in good shape and good spirits” following his escape.
The freelance photographer was working for the weekly during a rocket attack on February 22 on a makeshift media centre in Baba Amr, a rebel stronghold in Homs.
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 Lebanon overnight.
“Conroy and people accompanying him entered the Wadi Khaled region through the Hnayder border village after midnight on motorbikes,” said the activist in northern Lebanon who helps smuggle wounded people out of Syria.
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.
The two aid agencies said their rescue workers had left Homs on Tuesday after another attempt to evacuate the Western journalists foundered.
“Our team returned to Damascus … after negotiations yesterday and today with a sheikh (religious official) who was serving as an intermediary,” to evacuate the journalists, Red Crescent spokesman Abdel Rahman Attar told AFP.
“He asked for food and medical supplies for the residents of Baba Amr and our team accepted. 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 five civilians died on Tuesday in Baba Amr, while also reporting that five Syrian soldiers were killed in fighting against deserters in the southern province of Daraa.
The Britain-based monitoring group had reported more than 100 people killed Monday across Syria, including 11 members of the security forces and 68 civilians who had died in what it called a “massacre” in Homs province.
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, adding that since mid-February she had received reports of a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation and serious rights abuses.
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 by President Bashar al-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.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland asked how a democratic process such as Sunday’s referendum could take place in the country while Syrian government guns and tanks were still firing.
“We dismiss it as absolutely cynical,” Nuland told reporters.
The draft text of the constitution that was overwhelmingly approved by voters 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.
The Syrian opposition says the changes are cosmetic after nearly a year of repression by Assad’s security forces that human rights groups say has left more than 7,600 people dead.