Syria to Investigate Rocket Attack that Killed French Journalist, 8 Syrians

Posted January 12th, 2012 at 2:40 pm (UTC-5)
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The Syrian government says it will conduct an investigation into a rocket attack that killed French journalist Gilles Jacquier and eight Syrians in the central city of Homs on Wednesday.

State news agency SANA said Thursday Homs Governor Ghassan Abdel Al ordered the creation of a commission to investigate Wednesday's incident. It says the commission will include a Syrian judge, the head of criminal security in Homs and a representative of France 2 Television, Jacquier's employer.

Jacquier is the first Western journalist to be killed in Syria since the start of the 10-month long opposition uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. His killing triggered demands for an independent investigation from the French government, human rights groups and Syrian opposition activists.

Jacquier was in a group of about 15 journalists participating in a Syrian government tour of Homs when the attack happened. The Syrian government blames it on terrorists, whom it says are driving the revolt. But, one of Syria's main opposition groups, the Syrian National Council, says the government was responsible and accused it of “killing journalists” to try to silence independent media.

SANA also says 14 security personnel killed by “terrorists” were buried Thursday. The Syrian uprising has been led largely by peaceful protesters, but army deserters have joined the rebellion in recent months and engaged in fighting with pro-Assad security forces.

A Syrian rights group said Thursday more Arab League observers were leaving the country to protest the government's ongoing deadly crackdown on the uprising.

Mousab Azzawi of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told VOA 11 observers were expected to depart from Syria soon. He said the group of seven Iraqis, two Kuwaitis and two Emiratis decided to leave after witnessing Syrian security forces firing on opposition activists Tuesday in the northeastern town of Deir el-Zour. Azzawi says 19 protesters were killed in the incident.

An Algerian who became the first person to quit the mission earlier this week told the Reuters news agency three more observers have joined him. Anwar Malek has said he witnessed Syrian government forces committing war crimes against the Syrian people and deceiving the monitors while visiting the central city of Homs. He also has called the monitoring mission a “farce.”

But a Sudanese general leading the team of more than 160 observers says Malek's accusations are untrue.

In a statement released Thursday, General Mohamed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi says Malek did not join the other observers in the field in Homs and instead remained in a hotel room for six days, complaining of being ill. Dabi says the Algerian asked to travel to Paris for medical treatment but then departed Syria without waiting for approval.

The observers began operating in Syria on December 26 to check President Assad's compliance with an Arab League plan to end his violent suppression of the revolt. But the United Nations and the United States say killings of protesters by Syrian security forces have continued and intensified since the monitoring mission began.

In other developments, Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy says a ship carrying tons of Russian-made weapons reached a Syrian port on Thursday. The Associated Press says Turkish officials confirmed the arrival of the vessel at the Syrian port of Tartus.

Cypriot authorities had searched the vessel after it docked in Cyprus on Tuesday and said they released it the next day only after the ship's crew promised not to sail to Syria.

Also Thursday, Syrian border guards blocked a convoy of 200 anti-Assad activists from bringing humanitarian aid into Syria from neighboring Turkey. The mostly Syrian activists based in several European nations and the United States set up a camp in the Turkish border town of Kilis to protest Syria's move to deny them entry.

The United Nations estimates at least 5,000 people have been killed in the uprising.