Journalists targeted by Syria: French reporters

AFP, Saturday 3 Mar 2012

Two journalists from the French Figaro paper say the Al-Assad regime troops are targeting the media centre in the besieged Baba Amro district

Edith Bouvier
French journalist Edith Bouvier is carried on a stretcher after her arrival on a government plane at Villacoublay military airport near Paris.(Photo: Reuters)

Syrian forces seemed to be directly targeting journalists in Homs, wounded French reporter Edith Bouvier and photographer William Daniels said Saturday, after escaping the besieged city.

"There were at least five successive explosions, very near. We really had the impression that we were directly targeted," the Figaro daily quoted the pair as saying after their return to Paris Friday.

The rocket attack on 22 February in the flashpoint Baba Amr area of Homs killed French photographer Remi Ochlik as well as veteran Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin, and wounded Bouvier and British photographer Paul Conroy.

Paris prosecutors on Friday opened a murder probe into the attack. The bodies of Ochlik and Colvin were meanwhile formally identified in Damascus by the French and Polish ambassadors.

Le Figaro reporter Bouvier sustained multiple fractures to her leg from the rocket attack on a makeshift media centre in Baba Amr.

Bouvier, 31 and Daniels, 34, were smuggled out of Syria to Beirut by activists and were greeted by relatives and French President Nicolas Sarkozy when they arrived Friday at a French airbase near Paris.

The two Figaro journalists recounted their harrowing experience from the time on 22 February when Syrian rockets began hitting the "press centre".

"The Syrian activists who were with us, were used to these bombardments and understood the danger immediately. They told us that we must leave right away," the paper quoted the Bouvier and Daniels as saying.

Colvin and Ochlik were the first to leave. A missile landed in front of the press centre.

"The explosion was massive, Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik were practically at the point of impact. They were killed on the spot," the Figaro reported.

The injured Bouvier couldn't move her leg. "I screamed" and Syrian insurgent fighters took the journalists to a field hospital in a nearby house.

The International Committee of the Red Cross made some attempt at evacuating those remaining, but were unable to get the Western journalists out as the Syrian regime forces carried out the assault that eventually led to the rebels' withdrawal.

The two French journalists were trapped for days, even after members of the rebel Free Syrian Army managed to get the wounded Conroy and Spanish journalist Javier Espinosa out of the country and into Lebanon.

"We didn't know anything... was the way blocked? Were the Syrian troops coming? I really wanted to flee, before remembering that I was immobilised," said Bouvier who was eventually moved out on a stretcher.

Their exact route out remains a secret, though the two French journalists recounted how they were sheltered by locals along the way "despite the risks".

Their rescuers also braved rain and snow along the mountain roads, changing vehicles several times.

"They really put themselves in danger for us, they did everything for us," said Bouvier.

They eventually reached Lebanon late Thursday -- the day Baba Amr was retaken by government forces -- and were repatriated to France the following day.

Sarkozy, who announced Friday that Paris would close its embassy in Damascus to denounce President Bashar al-Assad's "scandalous" repression, paid homage to the journalists on their arrival.

He praised a "chivalrous" Daniels for staying with Bouvier in the Homs suburb of Baba Amr during days of heavy regime bombardment.

Upon his arrival in Paris, Daniels hailed the people of Homs, saying: "All of Baba Amr supported us. They treated us like kings. We were in one of the most protected houses. These people are heroes who are being massacred."

His eyes welling up with tears, Daniels added: "Those who saved our lives are surely dead, although I don't know. ... It was nine days of non-stop nightmare with our hopes crashing over a silly detail just about every day."

An ambulance parked on the tarmac took Bouvier under police escort to a military hospital for treatment for the broken leg she suffered during the deadly bombardment.

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