Syria Shelling Kills 19, Including 2 Western Journalists

Posted February 22nd, 2012 at 11:15 am (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Relentless Syrian shelling Wednesday in the opposition stronghold of Homs has killed at least 19 people including two Western journalists, as government forces escalated attacks on rebel bases.

The French government identified the dead reporters as Marie Colvin, a prominent American war correspondent working for Britain's Sunday Times newspaper, and French photojournalist Remi Ochlik. Activists said several other journalists were wounded in the attack on a makeshift media center in the rebel-held Baba Amr district of Homs.

The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders told VOA it is investigating whether Syrian forces deliberately targeted the building. The Syrian government issued a statement saying it was not aware that the journalists were in the country. Syria does not permit foreign journalists to roam freely and has kept most of them out.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the deaths showed the time has come for President Bashar al-Assad's government to end. Foreign Minister Alain Juppe called the killings “murder,” while the U.S. State Department said they are “another example [of the Syrian government's] shameless brutality.”

Before her death, Colvin had described how she was smuggled into Homs. Wednesday's deaths come one day after a Syrian sniper shot and killed Rami al-Sayyed, a well-known videoblogger, in the same besieged Homs neighborhood.

In northwestern Idlib province, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said army helicopters with machine guns opened fire on the village of Ifis. Idlib is a main base of the rebel Free Syrian Army.

Wednesday's violence comes a day after Syrian security forces killed at least 63 people in assaults on northern villages in Idlib and shelling in Homs. The casualty figures could not be independently verified because phone lines have been cut and Syria restricts the operations of foreign media.

In Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross said it is holding talks with a delegation from the opposition Syrian National Council. The ICRC called for a daily two-hour cease-fire so it can bring emergency aid to affected areas and evacuate the sick and wounded.

An international meeting has been called for later this week to push for a resolution of the crisis.

“We hope that Friday at the 'Friends of Syria' meeting in Tunis, we will be able to move towards a peaceful solution of the situation,” France's Juppe said.

The “Friends of Syria” contact group — made up of Western and Arab nations openly seeking Mr. Assad's downfall — is planning to use Friday's meeting in Tunisia to increase pressure on the Syrian government to halt the bloodshed.

Russia and China back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's reform program, which the Syrian opposition has soundly rejected.

The opposition Syrian National Council told reporters in Paris it wants Russia to push the Syrian government to permit the aid convoys. A spokeswoman for the council also said Wednesday the group increasingly believes armed conflict is the only solution to the crisis.

Human rights activists say the violence has killed at least 6,000 people.