2 Western journalists among 80 killed in Syria crackdown

The Obama administration opened the door slightly to military assistance for rebels

Written by Agencies | Beirut | Published: February 23, 2012 1:16:21 am

A French photojournalist and a prominent American war correspondent working for a British newspaper were killed Wednesday as Syrian forces intensely shelled the opposition stronghold of Homs.

In all,over 80 people were killed nationwide as President Bashar Assad’s regime also escalated attacks on rebel bases elsewhere,with helicopter gunships strafing areas in the northwest,activists said.

Weeks of withering barrages on the central city of Homs have failed to drive out opposition factions. Hundreds have died in the siege and the latest deaths further galvanised international pressure on Assad,who appears intent on widening his military crackdowns despite the risk of pushing Syria into full-scale civil war.

The Obama administration opened the door slightly Tuesday to military assistance for rebels,with officials saying new tactics may have to be explored if Assad continues to defy pressure to halt a brutal crackdown on dissenters.

French spokeswoman Valerie Pecresse identified those killed as French photojournalist Remi Ochlik,28,and US reporter Marie Colvin,who was working for Britain’s Sunday Times.

Syrian activists said at least two other Western journalists,French reporter Edith Bouvier of Le Figaro and British photographer Paul Conroy of the Sunday Times,were wounded in Wednesday’s shelling,which claimed at least 20 lives. Activists added that Bouvier,31,could bleed to death.

Some suggested that the house used by the journalists and activists was pinpointed by Syrian gunners. The French culture minister Mitterrand claimed the journalists were “pursued” as they tried to find cover,but gave no elaboration. A campaigner for online global activist group Avaaz,Alice Jay,claimed the group was “directly targeted.”

An amateur video posted online by activist showed what they claimed were bodies of two people in the middle of a heavily damaged house. It said they were of the journalists. One of the dead was wearing what appeared to be a flak jacket. Another amateur video shows the two injured journalists in a makeshift clinic,lying on two separate beds.

Many foreign journalists have been sneaking into Syria illegally in the past months with the help of smugglers from Lebanon and Turkey. The Syrian government on Wednesday denied it had targeted the journalists and asked other reporters in the country to register their presence with local authorities.

Marie Colvin

The 55-year-old American reporter was a veteran of many conflicts from the Mideast to Chechnya and from the Balkans to Iraq and Sri Lanka,where she lost an eye covering a civil war. She wore a distinctive black eyepatch. Jon Snow,an anchor for Britain’s Channel 4 News,which interviewed Colvin from Homs on Tuesday,called her “the most courageous journalist I ever knew and a wonderful reporter and writer.”

Remi Ochlik

The 28-year-old French photographer,despite his age,covered a string of conflicts that won him a reputation as one of the world’s best photojournalists. When he was just 20,Ochlik got his first major break covering riots in Haiti in 2004. When the Arab Spring erupted,Ochlik was all over it: In Tunisia,Morocco,Libya,Egypt,and Syria. His 12-photograph series titled “Battle For Libya” won the first prize in the general news category of the 2012 World Press Photo contest.

Fallen in syria

* The Committee to Protect Journalists have documented the deaths of at least four Syrian journalists in Syria.

* New York Times journalist Anthony Shadid died of an asthma attack while reporting in eastern Syria in February.

* In February,Mazhar Tayyara,a photojournalist who contributed to Agence France-Presse and other outlets,was killed by government forces’ fire in Homs.

* Gilles Jacquier,of the French TV station France 2,was killed in January by a shell or rocket while on a government-authorised reporting visit to Homs.

* Shukri Ahmed Ratib Abu Burghul,who hosted a weekly programme on Radio Damascus,died in January in Damascus days after being shot.

* Basil al-Sayed,a freelance cameraman,was shot in the head at a Homs checkpoint in late December.

* In November,cameraman Ferzat Jerban was found dead in Homs. Reuters

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