Bloomberg News

U.S., French Journalists Killed in Besieged Syrian City

February 22, 2012

(Updates with Saudi king’s comments in fifth paragraph, death toll in eighth, analyst comments in 21st.)

Feb. 22 (Bloomberg) -- An American reporter working for the U.K.’s Sunday Times and a French photographer were killed in the besieged Syrian city of Homs when shells hit them while they were reporting from the city, French officials said.

The journalists were Marie Colvin and photographer Remi Ochlik, Valerie Pecresse, budget minister and spokeswoman for France’s government, told journalists in Paris. They were killed during a bombardment of the Baba Amr residential neighborhood of the city by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, the U.K.- based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an e-mailed statement.

Syria has come under mounting international pressure as a result of Assad’s crackdown on protesters, which is nearing its one-year mark. Government forces have intensified efforts to stamp out the rebellion by using mortars, artillery and tanks. Ministers from the U.S., Europe and Arab nations will attend a summit in Tunisia this week to discuss how to assist the struggle to oust Assad.

The latest deaths show that “this is enough now, this regime must go,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy told reporters near his election campaign headquarters in Paris, AFP reported. “There’s no reason why Syrians shouldn’t have the right to live their lives, to choose their destiny freely.”

Dialogue ‘Pointless’

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev today there was no point in discussing events in Syria after Russia blocked a resolution on the issue in the United Nations Security Council earlier this month.

“The Russian friends should have coordinated with the Arabs before Russia used their right to veto in the Security Council,” the king told Medvedev, the official Saudi Press Agency reported in its account of a telephone conversation between the two leaders today. “Now any dialogue about what happened is pointless.”

The UN estimates more than 5,400 Syrians died last year as loyalist forces cracked down on protests that began in March. More than 8,500 people have been killed during the conflict, Mahmoud Merei, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said by phone from Damascus today.

At least 13 people were killed today in Homs after Assad’s forces resumed pounding Baba Amr this morning, while two other people were killed in the northern province of Idlib, the observatory said. Syria’s assault on rebels in Homs and other strongholds including Idlib left more than 100 dead yesterday, according to Merei and the Local Coordination Committees, an opposition group with a network of activists in the country.

Cease-Fire Plea

“Water and food are scarce, the situation is very dire in the Baba Amr neighborhood,” Merei said. He said families from Homs were trying to negotiate a temporary cease-fire with the government to be able to tend and evacuate the wounded, and collect and bury the dead.

“The killing of these well-known journalists is an important and sad issue which attracts much more international attention to this ongoing dilemma in Syria,” said Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai.

Edith Bouvier, reporter for Le Figaro, William Daniels and Paul Conroy, also of the Sunday Times, were injured in the attack that killed Colvin and Ochlik, Syrian activists said. Agence France Presse also reported on Bouvier’s injury, citing Philippe Gelie, head of Figaro’s foreign desk.

‘Starving Civilians’

Colvin was reporting from Homs at the time of her death. She described the death of a young boy at a medical clinic in the city on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 yesterday.

The video footage broadcast during Colvin’s phone interview showed a young child breathing heavily before dying of a shrapnel injury to the chest after his house was shelled. “Every civilian house on the street has been hit,” she said. “The top floor of the building I am in has been hit, in fact totally destroyed. There are no military targets here. The Syrian army is simply shelling a city of cold, starving civilians.”

With explosions in the background, another video of a scene posted on Google Inc.’s YouTube shows a man holding a child, stroking his face and chest and vowing to take revenge. The authenticity of the video couldn’t be independently verified by Bloomberg News.

Several foreign reporters have died during the conflict this year. State television channel France 2 journalist Gilles Jacquier was killed in January while reporting from Homs, the press office of the Paris-based channel said on Jan. 11. Anthony Shadid, a double winner of the Pulitzer Prize, died last week in Syria from an apparent asthma attack while on assignment, the New York Times reported.

‘Intolerable’ Behaviour

“I am asking the Syrian government for an immediate end to the attacks and for respect for humanitarian rules,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said after the death of the two journalists today. Syria’s ambassador to France will be told that his government’s behavior is “intolerable,” Juppe said in an e-mailed statement.

European Union governments are moving toward stiffer sanctions on Syria and considering trade restrictions and a freeze on central bank assets. The Arab League has already suspended Syria and imposed economic sanctions. Russia and China blocked a resolution at the Security Council this month, supported by the U.S., EU and Arab League, calling on Assad to step down in favor of an interim government that would hold elections.

‘Explosive Situation’

Assad accused unidentified foreign interests of providing weapons and financial support to “armed terrorist groups” as they seek to destabilize Syria, the official Syrian Arab News Agency reported Feb. 20.

About 40,000 members of Syria’s 270,000-strong security forces have defected, according to Turkish Foreign Ministry estimates.

“There’s an explosive situation that could drag on for a long time,” Anthony Skinner, director responsible for the Middle East and North Africa at Bath, U.K.-based Maplecroft, global risk advisory, said in a telephone interview. “At the moment there’s no one decisive driver that would tip the balance in favor of one side or another.”

--With assistance from Mourad Haroutunian in Riyadh, Emre Peker in Ankara, Mark Deen and Helen Fouquet in Paris. Editors: Digby Lidstone, Andrew Atkinson.

To contact the reporter on this story: Massoud A. Derhally in Beirut, Lebanon at mderhally@bloomberg.net; Glen Carey in Riyadh at gcarey8@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net


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