It was reported this afternoon that the two journalists wounded in Baba Amr quarter of Homs, Syria last week [in the same "Media Center" where Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik died in shelling that their satellite phone use very probably helped target], were “smuggled” out — and that 13 Avaaz activists died in the operation.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy hailed the effort. Speaking from the southern French city of Montpelier, where he is campaigning for the forthcoming elections, Sarkozy said he was “glad that this nightmare is over”, according to the AP http://m.apnews.com/ap/db_15716/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=ypSDmCoh.
But, a few hours later, Sarkozy retracted his remarks.
It seems that French journalist Edith Bouvier, who pleaded for evacuation from Baba Amr — because her leg was broken in two places, she could not walk, and she badly needed urgent fast surgery — was left behind and had not reached safety in Lebanon, as was previously announced. Only British journalist/cameraman Paul Convoy made it out, overnight, the BBC reported, here.
According to this BBC report, Bouvier’s whereabouts were unknown, though she apparently may have made it out of Homs, all of which is a danger zone under attack.
The BBC also reported that there was no news about the bodies of Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik.
Before this surprising turnaround, and before Sarkozy’s retraction,
Zak @TheZako commented, with apparent admiration, on Twitter:
“.@Avaaz spoxman on @BBCRadio4: 23 activists were killed during the evacuation of foreign journalists. Crazy, crazy!”
Was it 23? Or, 13?
[@Avaaz Tweeted today that: "Ricken Patel, from #Avaaz, is live on #NSCNN CNN now. "There were over 50 activists in the opp, 23 died". But an Avaaz press release, below, says it was 13...]
And, who are these Avaaz activists, really?
- Avaaz itself announced here that “a network of Syrian activists coordinated [though a Tweet by @Avaaz says it provided "support"] by the global campaign organisation Avaaz helped the international journalist Paul Conroy escape into Lebanon. He had been injured and trapped in Baba Amr, Homs for six days under continuous Syrian government shelling. The three other journalists Javier Espinosa, Edith Bouvier and William Daniels remain unaccounted for. Avaaz responded to requests from the journalists, their families and colleagues to attempt to evacuate them and worked with over 35 heroic Syrian activists each night who volunteered to help in the rescue. The activists have offered to support in the evacuation every night since Remi Ochlik and Marie Colvin were killed by Syrian government shellfire last Wednesday, during which time they rescued 40 seriously wounded people from the same place and brought in medical supplies. Tragically this operation led to a number of fatalities as the Syrian Army targeted those escaping, during their bombardment of the city on Sunday evening. 13 activists were killed in the operation. Three activists were killed by Syrian targeted shelling as they tried to assist the journalists through Baba Amr. While Paul Conroy successfully escaped the city, ten activists died bringing relief supplies into Baba Amr. On the day of their evacuation, over 7,000 people had been forced to flee their neighbourhoods in south Homs in fear of massacres. This operation was carried by Syrians with the help of Avaaz. No other agency was involved”.
The BBC said that “Campaign group Avaaz said it had co-ordinated an operation to free the wounded journalists and two trapped colleagues, and some of the activists involved had died in the process. Avaaz executive director Ricken Patel said the rescue group had been split in two by shelling after leaving Homs, and only Mr Conroy’s group had been able to move forward. Avaaz described the three other journalists – Ms Bouvier, Javier Espinosa, and William Daniels – as ‘unaccounted for’. Mr Conroy was apparently able to walk across the border into Lebanon during the night, but our correspondent adds that the more seriously wounded Ms Bouvier would have had to be carried on a stretcher”.
Javier Espinosa, Middle East Correspondent for El Mundo [Spain], reportedly survived uninjured the same attack killed Colvin + Ochlik, and wounded Bouvier + Conroy. One of his accounts of the situation in Baba Amr was published by The Guardian, here.
William Daniels, a French photographer who was on assignment for Panos photo agency, may or may not have been wounded.
Mr. Conroy’s wife, who had given hell to British Foreign and Commonwealth Office [FCO] officials for their seeming earlier inaction on rescuing her husband, said this evening that she was thrilled. A FCO spokesperson, speaking on “customary condition of anonymity in line with policy” said that “All the necessary work is being done on repatriating Marie Colvin’s body and ensuring Paul Conroy gets to safety. For security reasons we can’t give you any more detail of that at the moment”. This is reported by CBS News here.
The Committee to Protect Journalists [CPJ] issued a statement, posted here, from its New York Headquarters that “In all, eight journalists have been killed in Syria in the last four months, CPJ research shows. On Friday, a Syrian videographer Anas al-Tarsha was killed in Homs while filming a bombardment. A week earlier, another Syrian videographer, Rami al-Sayed, was killed in Baba Amr”.
CBS News also reported here that: “The Syrian opposition group Local Coordination Committees [LCC] and global activist group Avaaz said Conroy was the only foreign journalist to escape Syria. Rima Fleihan, an LCC spokeswoman, said the Sunday Times photographer was smuggled out by Syrian army defectors. The global activist group Avaaz, which said it organized the evacuation with local Syrian activists, said 35 Syrians volunteered to help get the journalists out and bring aid in. Of those, 13 were killed. Avaaz said three were killed in government shelling while trying to help Conroy through the neighborhood and 10 others were killed trying to bring in aid while Conroy was on his way out on Sunday evening … The LCC said other Western journalists are negotiating with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to be allowed to leave Syria without having their videos and photos confiscated by authorities. All the journalists killed and wounded in Homs were smuggled into Syria from Lebanon illegally”.
Really, who are these Avaaz activists?
Liz Sly made an attempt to clarify in a report published in the Washington Post here, which recalled that about ten days ago, “New York Times correspondent Anthony Shadid died of an asthma attack during a strenuous trek out of Syria across the mountainous Turkish border”.
Sly’s Washington Post piece reported that “The botched rescue [n.b. - of injured and stranded journalists from Baba Amr] Tuesday also underscores the dangers facing the underground networks of activists and smugglers set up to evacuate people injured in government attacks to hospitals in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. The same networks carry medical supplies such as blood bags and antibiotics into Syria for use in field hospitals and have been used by journalists to enter the country illegally. Similar but separate networks have also been utilized to smuggle weapons to the fledgling armed resistance movement known as the Free Syrian Army. But most of those active in the medical networks are civilian volunteers, seeking to help Syrians who have been injured during protests and who risk detention if they seek treatment at government hospitals, said Wissam Tarif, a Lebanon-based activist with Avaaz. ‘They are just ordinary guys who did not pick up weapons but decided to evacuate injured people’, he said. ‘Some of them have basic medical training, some can do tetanus shots and provide some medical assistance. Some of them are just guys who can carry heavy weights. They’ve been doing this for a year, and hundreds of them have been killed’. Altogether, 23 members of the network engaged in ferrying medical supplies and injured victims between Homs and Lebanon have been killed since last Wednesday’s attack on the journalists, said Tarif, who has close ties with the network. [Wait - is Sly separating this "network" from Avaaz, or are they identical, or at least overlap?] In the process, they have evacuated 40 injured civilians from Homs. Details of the the ambush and the identities of the dead Syrians were not disclosed to protect future evacuation operations, With the deaths of the activists and the evident discovery of the secret route they had been using by Syrian security forces, the network is now in jeopardy, activists said, leaving it unclear whether the remaining journalists can be evacuated. Efforts by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to negotiate safe passage out of Bab Amr for the journalists have failed”…
Meanwhile the UN Human Rights Council convened in a special session in Geneva to discuss the situation in Syria. High-level delegations were expected to attend. The Syrian delegates walked out in protest early in the session after a UN official told the meeting that “atrocities were being committed in Syria”.
The BBC added that “French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe has urged the 47 nations in the council to be prepared to submit a complaint against Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague”.