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Friday 28 July 2017

Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin killed by Syrian regime forces in Homs

Marie Colvin. Photo: Getty Images
Marie Colvin. Photo: Getty Images
Journalist Marie Colvin poses for a photograph with Libyan rebels (unseen) in Misrata on June 4, 2011 . Photo: Reuters
Black smoke rises into the air from Syrian government shelling, at Baba Amr neighborhood in Homs province, Syria. Photo: AP
Marie Colvin meets Saif al-Islam, the most prominent son of Libya then-leader Muammar Gaddafi, at a compound in Tripoli in a March 10, 2011. Photo: Reuters
French photographer Remi Ochlik was also killed in the incident. Photo: AP

JOURNALIST Marie Colvin, who worked for The Sunday Times, has been killed by Syrian regime forces in the flashpoint city of Homs, according to reports.

She was named as one of two journalists by the Reuters news agency who were killed when shells hit the house in which they were staying and a rocket hit them when they were escaping. French photographer Remi Ochlik was also killed.

Both were veteran correspondents of wars in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Colvin was a fearless reporter who lost an eye when she suffered a shrapnel wound while working in Sri Lanka in 2001. In public appearances after that attack, she wore a black eye patch.

The two were killed when a shell crashed into a makeshift media centre set up by anti-regime activists in Baba Amr district, under siege since February 4, activist Omar Shaker told the AFP news agency.

He said three other foreign journalists were wounded.

French television reporter Gilles Jacquier was killed in Homs last month as a shell exploded amid a group of journalists covering protests in the city on a visit organised by the Syrian authorities.

Violence meanwhile continues to spread across Syria. Several YouTube videos taken by local activists in Idlib, which could not be independently confirmed, showed bodies of young men with bullet wounds and hands tied lying dead in streets.

The men, all civilians, were mostly shot in the head or chest on Tuesday in their homes or in streets in the villages of Idita, Iblin and Balshon in Idlib province near the border with Turkey, the Syrian Network for Human Rights said.

"Military forces chased civilians in these villages, arrested them and killed them without hesitation. They concentrated on male youths and whoever did not manage to escape was to be killed," the organisation said in a statement.

"Responsibility for this massacre lies with the general commander of the military and armed forces, Bashar al-Assad," the statement said, adding that only one youth survived the shootings.

One video shows the body of three youths, one visibly shot in the chest, on the floor of a house in Balshon.

"This is martyr Hassan Abdel Qadi al-Saeed, his brother Hussein and (their relative) Bashir Mohammad al-Saeed. They were liquidated by Assad's forces in the Feb. 21 massacre," a voice of a man showing the bodies says, with the sound of women wailing in the background.

The developments come as the United States appeared to ease their stance on eventually arming the Syrian opposition, saying if a political solution to the crisis were impossible it might have to consider other options.

The comments, made by officials at both the White House and the State Department, marked a shift in emphasis by Washington, which thus far has stressed its policy of not arming the opposition and has said little about alternatives.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet with representatives of some 70 countries in Tunis on Friday for the first "Friends of Syria" meeting to coordinate the international community's next steps to respond the nearly year-long uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"We still believe that a political solution is what's needed in Syria," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

"We don't want to take actions that would contribute to the further militarisation of Syria, because that could take the country down a dangerous path. But we don't rule out additional measures."

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, asked if the United States was shifting its stance on arming the rebels, said Washington did not want to see the violence increase and was concentrating on political efforts to halt the bloodshed.

"That said ... if we can't get Assad to yield to the pressure that we are all bringing to bear, we may have to consider additional measures."

She declined to elaborate on what those measures might be.

The official comments on Tuesday followed a cautious assessment from General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, who told CNN over the weekend that Washington still did not know enough about Assad's opponents.

"Until we're a lot clearer about who they are and what they are, I think it would be premature to talk about arming them," General Dempsey said.

The United States and its allies hope this week's Tunis meeting will allow them to begin drawing up a plan for Syria after Russia and China vetoed a Western-backed Arab League peace plan at the UN Security Council.

US officials suggest the meeting will focus on ways to increase economic pressure on Assad through additional sanctions and to ramp up humanitarian relief for victims of the repression.

But Arab diplomats have suggested that formal or informal moves to arm the rebels may also be discussed.

Some US politicians such as Republican Senator John McCain support efforts to arm the Syrian rebels – if not directly by the United States, then by other countries or third parties.

"There are ways to get weapons to people who are fighting against this kind of oppression, we showed that in Libya," Mr McCain told reporters on a visit to Jerusalem.

"To somehow sit by and watch this massacre continue without exploring and employing every option that we possibly can to stop it is a betrayal of everything the United States stands for and believes in."

With both Russia and Iran firmly backing Assad's government, political analysts say tacit U.S. support for arming rebel fighters could be risky given Syria's complex ethnic and religious make-up and strategically important position.

"Force employed by the Friends of Syria should be the last step of an escalatory ladder," Robert Danin, a Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in an opinion piece on Tuesday.

"Arming the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups may eventually help topple Assad, but it also increases the potential for a fractured or failed state."

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