Edith Bouvier may still be in Homs.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy retracted a claim from earlier Tuesday that French journalist Edith Bouvier had been smuggled out of Homs, Syria, where she had been trapped. Earlier, Sarkozy confirmed that opposition forces had smuggled Bouvier, who was injured last week in the bombardment that killed American reporter Marie Colvin and French photojournalist Rémi Ochlik, to safety in Lebanon. British photographer Paul Conroy was in fact rescued, but communication about Bouvier has left French authorities confused and uncertain about her safety. Bouvier appeared in a video posted on YouTube on Feb. 23, saying she needed an emergency operation.
Sitting in a hospital bed in Lebanon, a wounded Zakaria Moutlak, 26, talks about how he and two friends joined the rebels in Homs, what they endured, and what it cost them.
Unlike most of the jobless young men driving the Syrian uprising, Diaa al-Busti, 20, wanted for nothing. His family had money from years of working in Saudi Arabia. He’d trained to be an aircraft engineer. He had a car. Still, he became the unlikely powerhouse of the close-knit group of protest organizers in Homs, according to his partner in crime, 26-year-old Zakaria Moutlak. Together, they corralled demonstrators, made flags, and wrote graffiti on Homs’s walls. Busti was a relentless recruiter. He used to harangue any of the young men in Homs not participating in protests, recalled Moutlak. “He would tell them, ‘What are you afraid of?’” said Moutlak. “‘You could be killed or captured anytime in this country, randomly, for nothing. You only die once. Make it count.’” Each morning, he sent the other activists into fits of laughter as he reserved his first words of the day for cursing the president. He danced on the shoulders of other demonstrators. Determined to live without fear of the security forces, Busti never covered his face.
Zakaria Moutlak, 26, who was injured in Homs, in a hospital across the border in Tripolo=i, Lebanon. (Katie Paul)
Today, Moutlak sits in a hospital bed across the border in Tripoli, Lebanon, a bandage wrapped around the hole left by the 23mm antiaircraft bullet that ripped through his thigh. When I visited him, cigarette smoke filled the room as other men wounded in the rebellious enclaves of Homs and Quseir hobbled in and out, wearing scarves of the pre-Baathist Syrian flag knitted by old women from their neighborhoods. He arrived there 11 days ago, after he was injured the day before in a clash between his Farouq Brigade, the Free Syrian Army militia guarding Bab Amro, and the government forces trying to enter the neighborhood from next-door Inshaat. While some men in Bab Amro have taken up arms since the beginning of the revolution, the Free Syrian Army force there only began to coalesce, organize, and take concerted action there about two months ago, according to about a dozen young fighters interviewed for this article. From protest leaders in jeans and gelled hair to Kalashnikov-toting rebels comforting themselves with the discourse of martyrdom, Busti and Moutlak were a part of that trajectory.
After Moutlak was arrested for a month in May while trying to deliver food and medical supplies to Daraa, the two friends left for Saudi Arabia, trying to drum up support among expats and raise funds for those they’d left behind inside. But they grew tired of watching from afar. Along with a third friend from their Inshaat days, Danny Abdul Dayem, 22, they decided to convene in Lebanon, then sneak back into Homs together. “When we reached Bab Amro, we couldn’t have been happier, despite the death spreading around us, more and more,” recalled Moutlak. “The world felt so small. Bab Amro for us was the promised land, on the way to heaven.” Abduldayem joined the media team. Busti went straight into the Farouq Brigade. Moutlak started volunteering in the neighborhood’s field hospital. A week later, he decided to join the armed forces, too. “I couldn’t take it, seeing all those bodies—women, kids, blood, severed limbs—without doing anything,” he said. The officer in charge pushed back at first; he was only supposed to accept defectors, not civilian recruits. But two days later, Moutlak was trained and outfitted with his own Kalashnikov.
Including 64 fleeing embattled Homs.
On the day that the Syrian government said a referendum had been passed with nearly 90 percent approval from citizens, dozens of protesters were killed across the country, including 64 who were attempting to flee the embattled city of Homs. Opposition activists reported that 138 people had been killed, including the 64 in what was described as a “horrifying massacre” at a checkpoint outside Homs. The deaths vault the estimated death toll of the fighting in Syria over the last 12 months to more than 9,000. Ninety-eight people were said to have been killed in the Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr, where U.S. journalist Marie Colvin died last week.
On thousands of dissidents.
A 718-page digital document obtained by Mother Jones magazine appears to show that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has a hit list on thousands of dissidents. The spreadsheet contains names, phone numbers, neighborhoods, and the alleged activities of thousands of opposition members that are apparent targets of the government. Mother Jones says three experts were separately asked to examine the document, and all of them agree it is authentic. The document reportedly surfaced last month on Twitter during discussions about Syria.
Claims 89 percent support new constitution.
Really? That’s quite a landslide. The Syrian government claimed Monday that Sunday’s referendum on a new constitution passed with 89.4 percent support. The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, citing the Interior Ministry, said the ballot drew 57.4 percent of eligible voters. This comes despite widespread criticism from opposition groups, who boycotted the vote, saying that the referendum was a complete sham. Meanwhile, at least 41 people died in the country Monday, according to Al Arabiya television, as government troops continued shelling the city of Homs.
As violence continues.
A referendum for change or a public sham? Syrian citizens head to the polls to cast a vote on the new constitution, touted by the government, that calls for parliamentary elections within three months. There are also provisions in constitution that suggest government permission is needed to form a party or conduct political activity. Attacks by government forces have reportedly killed dozens on Sunday. While some polling booths are empty, Syrian state television is showing video of overwhelming public support for the new constitution. Almost 100 people were killed on the eve of a national referendum on a new constitution, Syrian activists say, calling the vote a sham and promising a boycott. Almost half of the dead were in the city of Homs, which has been the target of a concentrated assault on opposition fighters for three weeks.
‘Friends of Syria’ stops short of arming opposition.
Residents of the Syrian city of Homs were despondent Saturday after an international coalition of leaders stopped short of providing military help to the rebels. “They [world leaders] are still giving opportunities to this man who is killing us and has already killed thousands of people,” said an activist named Husseni in the battered Homs district of Baba Amro. A group of more than 60 world leaders, calling themselves “Friends of Syria,” denounced President Bashar al-Assad on Friday after a meeting in Tunisia, and promised assistance presumably after Assad has stepped down. The Syrian Red Cross is continuing to evacuate Homs, the center of the uprising, with 27 wounded people being removed from the battered neighborhood of Baba Amro.
After Red Cross unable to evacuate.
The Red Cross was not able to rescue two Western journalists from Homs, despite being able to rescue seven people from Baba Amr. Edith Bouvier, a reporter with Le Figaro, and British photographer Paul Conroy, who works for the Sunday Times, were wounded when the Assad regime targeted a makeshift media center on Wednesday. They had asked for help leaving the city, but the Red Cross was unable to get to them and the two bodies of journalists killed in the fighting. Government forces said armed groups refused to turn over the reporters, but resistance activists said the journalists refused to leave the city. The Red Cross got to Homs on Friday and has tried to negotiate the evacuation of injured civilians, but has had difficulty navigating the hatred between Assad’s forces and the opposition.
Rescues wounded Syrian citizens.
Following U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s warning that Assad would “pay a heavy cost” if he continued to block aid, a mission to evacuate wounded people in the besieged city of Homs is at last underway. The International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed that the rescue mission began on Friday evening. Working with volunteers from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the ICRC staff members said they had negotiated evacuations of women and children with both government and rebel forces in the district of Baba Amr, a rebel stronghold in Homs. Though seven people have been taken to local hospitals, four Western journalists—two wounded and two who were killed in Homs—have not yet been evacuated.
Western and Arab nations to call for ceasefire.
The Obama administration is working with international leaders to bring about a ceasefire in Syria. They are in particular seeking an end to the siege of Homs, a city that has endured more than two weeks of shelling as forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have sought to crush dissident groups. The more than 70 Arab and European countries that are seeking the ceasefire along with the United States, known as the "Friends of Syria," will demand immediate access to the city for badly needed medical aid and humanitarian attention. According to sources, in the talks, which will take place Friday in Tunisia, they are asking for a response from Assad “within days.” The leaders, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, are also asking for increased recognition of the Syrian National Council and stricter sanctions against Assad’s regime. More than 50 were reported dead in the nation on Thursday.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, the head of the Committee to Protect Journalists discusses why traditional media and citizen reporters are a threat to struggling dictators.
It’s been a tragic week for journalists in the Middle East, with news of the deaths of the New York Times’ Anthony Shadid, Sunday Times correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Rémi Ochlik. As the Arab Spring revolutions continue to unfold across the region, the battle to get information out of conflict zones to the world at large has been a dangerous one for reporters of all kinds, from citizen journalists with camera phones to the staff of major global publications. This truth became painfully apparent with the journalism community’s latest losses: it was suggested yesterday that Colvin, Ochlik and their colleagues may have been directly targeted in shelling by the Syrian army, with French president Nicolas Sarkozy saying the journalists were “assassinated”. The pair were killed inside a house that was reportedly being used as a press center.
On Tuesday night, Joel Simon—executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists—sat down with The Daily Beast at London’s Frontline Club ahead of the launch of the CPJ’s annual report, Attacks on the Press, to discuss how the combination of social media, traditional reporting and citizen journalism are posing a serious threat to oppressive regimes—and why struggling dictators are likely to continue to target journalists as their power crumbles.
Simon: “There’s a lot of new potential using these technologies and using these tools, but governments now recognize clearly what’s at stake. What’s interesting about what’s happening in Syria is that’s really been a battle over information. The Syrian opposition is going to get fragments of information out, and some horrific images, but it didn’t really reach the broader public in the same way as images from Tahrir Square did, because it wasn’t amplified by the presence of international journalists on the ground inside the country. That dynamic is starting to change now. The images of carnage and destruction and violence from inside Syria are getting out now, because journalists are able to get in, a handful of them. Then they’re using these images and videos provided by people on the ground—but they’re reaching a global audience, and that has changed the whole dynamic.
The American journalist Marie Colvin, left, and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed in Homs, Syria, on Wednesday when government forces shelled a building being used as a media center. (AP Photo)
Wounded in attack that killed Marie Colvin.
French journalist Edith Bouvier, who was wounded in the same attack that killed Marie Colvin and Rémi Ochlik, on Thursday requested evacuation from Syria to receive a life-saving operation. In a video posted online by a opposition activist, Bouvier said that Syrian doctors are trying to treat her but that she needs an “urgent operation,” and asks to be evacuated to Lebanon. In a separate video, the British photographer Paul Conroy, who was also injured in the attack, said he is being taken care of by the medical staff of the Free Syrian Army. He said he is “absolutely OK” despite having three large wounds on his leg. French President Nicolas Sarkozy called the attack on the journalists “murder,” while some intelligence has suggested that the Syrian Army targeted their location.
Marie Colvin, an acclaimed American reporter, died alongside a French photographer during an assault on the city of Homs. See her final interview, in which she describes Syrian forces’ deadly siege.
Intercepted communication between Syrian army officers reportedly revealed that they had pledged to “kill any journalist who set foot on Syrian soil”—resulting in the death of American journalist Marie Colvin and French photographer Rémi Ochlik on Wednesday, Britain’s Telegraph reported. Witnesses said Colvin and Ochlik were killed by a rocket-propelled grenade as they tried to exit a house used by foreign journalists. In intelligence intercepted by Lebanon, Syrian army officers allegedly said they would target the journalists and then claim they had been killed in crossfire with “terrorist groups.” Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said London would “redouble their efforts” to end “Assad’s campaign of terror,” while French President Nicolas Sarkozy said “enough is enough. This regime must go.” London summoned their ambassador to Damascus in protest of killing of Colvin, who worked was working as a correspondent for the Sunday Times.
Mom says slain journalist was “totally dedicated.”
The mother of one of the journalists slain in Syria said her daughter had been planning to leave the country but stayed an extra day to finish reporting a story “she felt was very important.” Rosemarie Colvin told Newsday that her daughter, Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin, was “totally dedicated to getting the story straight and getting it out.” Colvin and French photographer Rémi Ochlik were killed by shelling in Homs on Wednesday while two other journalists were wounded when rockets hit the house they were staying in. Very few foreign journalists have been allowed in Syria, and the Syrian government on Wednesday ordered all journalists who have “entered Syria illegally” to report to the nearest immigration center. Colvin and Ochlik had reportedly been smuggled into Syria.
Marie Colvin, who was killed by Syrian shelling in Homs today, put her life at risk to report on atrocities from Sri Lanka to Baghdad. Her friend Christopher Dickey remembers her tenacity. Plus, T.D. Allman on Colvin’s courageous career.
On the last full day of her life, Marie Colvin of The Sunday Times of London posted a note to a colleague on a Facebook page for war correspondents and humanitarian workers:
"I think the reports of my survival may be exaggerated. [I am] in Baba Amr,” she wrote. That neighborhood of Homs has become the focal point of resistance to the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, and in retribution its people and their lightly armed defenders have been subjected to more than two weeks of relentless pounding by government artillery. “Sickening,” wrote Marie. “[I] cannot understand how the world can stand by and I should be hardened by now. Watched a baby die today. Shrapnel, doctors could do nothing. His little tummy just heaved and heaved until he stopped. Feeling helpless. As well as cold! Will keep trying to get out the information.”
This morning at least two of the shells that rained down on Baba Amr landed on the building where Marie and a handful of other journalists were holed up. She did not survive. Nor did a younger French colleague, photographer Rémi Ochlik.
Perhaps I should say at this point that I have known Marie as a good friend since we first met in Libya in 1986 around the time President Ronald Reagan bombed Tripoli and Benghazi to punish the dictator Muammar Gaddafi for supporting terrorists. Never mind that she was an Ivy League American; she was absolutely at home in the company of the great British rogue correspondents, of whom there were many in those days, and she had a peculiar knack for getting tyrants to talk.
Former Syrian prime minister Riad Hijab grabbed headlines at a press conference Tuesday, urging Syrians to rebel and claiming President Assad's regime is 'on the verge of collapse.'
Before jumping into Egypt or Syria, the U.S. needs to think about what comes next, next, and next. And then, don’t jump, writes Leslie H. Gelb.
A country at war with itself. Bombs and civilian massacres. Yet, in Damascus, the music plays on.
There is no sign of capitulation as the Syrian government’s bombardment of the city heads into its 20th day.