Agony goes on for injured journalists trapped in Homs
A SECOND bid to evacuate two wounded journalists from a besieged area of the city of Homs in Syria failed on Monday night when ambulances from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent left without them.
Volunteers from the local affiliate of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were allowed to reach the Baba Amr district to remove casualties requiring treatment, including Paul Conroy, a British photographer working for the Sunday Times, and Edith Bouvier, a French correspondent for Le Figaro.
Both were both wounded last Wednesday during the same bombardment that killed Marie Colvin of the Sunday Times and Remi Ochlik, a French photographer. Recovering the two corpses had also been the aim of the operation.
However, the ICRC said: “Neither the foreign journalists nor the bodies of the two other foreign journalists were able to be evacuated. We do not know the reason why.” Three Syrian civilians were taken out of Baba Amr for treatment.
Last Friday, three ambulances from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent reached Baba Amr by agreement with the regime and brought seven wounded civilians out of the area. On that occasion, the ICRC said that Mr Conroy and Miss Bouvier had “refused to be evacuated” by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent when the group “offered to take them out”. The journalists, both of whom have suffered leg injuries, might have been worried about the impartiality of this organisation’s local volunteers. Opponents of President Bashar al-Assad believe the Syrian Arab Red Crescent is under the influence of the regime
Last night the journalists were understood to have been similarly reluctant, with Miss Bouvier being particularly unwilling to leave with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. Personnel from the ICRC itself were able to reach Homs, but not Baba Amr.
Between 20,000 and 30,000 people live in this district which has now been under bombardment for 24 consecutive days. Many of the wounded are being treated in makeshift clinics often located in mosques or private houses. Injured people are often afraid to seek treatment from state hospitals or any organisation linked to the government because they fear the security forces will arrest any patient suspected of opposing the regime.
Jacques Beres, a French surgeon who worked in a makeshift hospital in the provincial capital for two weeks, described Homs as a “ghost city” and said the area where Mr Conroy and Miss Bouvier were lying wounded was “hell”. He added: “The difficulties are huge. We really need a truce.”
Mr Beres, a co-founder of Medecins sans Frontieres, a French medical charity, told reporters that Miss Bouvier had been seriously injured. “It seems that she has a fractured femur, you can’t move with such a fracture. It hurts a lot, it’s dangerous,” he said. “We must pay tribute to the courage of the journalists who went there and who are still there.”
Intense diplomatic efforts were underway to resolve the situation yesterday and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France had voiced optimism that the deadlock would be broken. “We have the beginnings of a solution,” he told French radio. “It seems that things are starting to move.”
Mr Sarkozy added that Miss Colvin and Mr Ochlik had been deliberately “assassinated” by the Syrian regime’s forces. He accused the Syrian army of intentionally bombarding a target which they knew “perfectly well” to be a rudimentary press centre used by journalists who had managed to reach Baba Amr. “What’s happening in Syria is a scandal,” added Mr Sarkozy.
The American embassy in Damascus closed earlier this month so US interests in Syria are now being handled by Poland’s mission in the country. A spokesman for the Polish foreign ministry said the country’s diplomats were cooperating with French and British efforts to “obtain the evacuation of Western journalists from Homs”. Miss Colvin was an American citizen.
However, the Polish spokesman cautioned that the situation was remained “complicated”. Any movement by members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent in Homs is highly dangerous, involving crossing front lines manned by the Syrian soldiers and rebels from the Free Syrian Army. After the failure of Monday's effort, no-one can be sure that another evacuation attempt will be possible.