|(Top) Marie Colvin and Rémi Ochlik
Cairo, Feb. 22: Two western journalists, one American and one French, were killed early today as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad pursued a deadly bombardment of the central city of Homs, according to activists and officials.
Valérie Pécresse, the French government spokeswoman, identified the dead as Marie Colvin, an American reporter working for The Sunday Times of London, and Rémi Ochlik, a French photographer.
The deaths were reported less than a week after Anthony Shadid, a correspondent for The New York Times, died last Thursday of an apparent asthma attack on his way back to Turkey after spending nearly a week reporting covertly inside Syria.
Video footage posted on social networking sites showed what seemed to be two bodies lying face down in rubble inside a building identified in news reports as a makeshift media centre in a beleaguered neighbourhood of Homs, where rebels have been under sustained fire for almost three weeks. Three other western journalists were injured in the attack, activists said.
One of them was identified in French media reports as a 31-year-old woman freelancing for the daily newspaper, Le Figaro, who was said to have been wounded in the legs. Video footage on YouTube showed her and a British photographer both lying in what appeared to be a makeshift clinic with bandages on their legs.
According to his website, Ochlik, in his late twenties, had covered wars and upheaval in Haiti, Congo and West Asia. Colvin, 55, was a veteran of many conflicts from West Asia to Chechnya and from the Balkans to Iraq and Sri Lanka, where she lost an eye covering a civil war. She wore a distinctive black eyepatch. Both had won awards for their work.
Jon Snow, an anchor for Britains Channel 4 News, which interviewed Colvin from Homs on Tuesday evening, called her the most courageous journalist I ever knew and a wonderful reporter and writer.
She was also interviewed by the BBC, recounting how she had watched a two-year-old child die in Homs. I watched a little baby die today. Absolutely horrific, just a two-year-old, she said. Quoting a witness reached from Jordan, Reuters said the two journalists died when shells hit the house in which they were staying and a rocket hit them when they were escaping.
An activist who spoke in return for anonymity for fear of government reprisals said an apartment being used as a media centre with satellite uplink facilities had taken a direct hit and activists had been unable to reach it to retrieve the bodies because of continued shelling.
The killings were reported as intense international lobbying for and against Assad continued yesterday over the nearly yearlong crackdown that has proved the most violent of the so-called Arab Spring and one of the most perilous for journalists trying to cover it. The Syrian authorities do not routinely grant visas for reporters to enter the country and seek to control those who are given rare permission to do so.
Unlike other violent uprisings in Libya or Yemen, those controls have combined to make the Syrian revolt difficult to observe first-hand and those reporters that do so run great risks of being caught in fighting, often in isolated pockets of rebel resistance.
Previous deaths include a freelance cameraman, Ferzat Jarban, who was found dead in early November. Another freelance cameraman, Basil al-Sayed, died at the end of December.
Colvin was raised on Long Island but had been based in England for many years. In a speech in 2010, Britains Press Association news agency reported, she spoke of the work of combat reporters, saying our mission is to report these horrors of war with accuracy and without prejudice.
We always have to ask ourselves whether the level of risk is worth the story. What is bravery, and what is bravado? She added: Journalists covering combat shoulder great responsibilities and face difficult choices. Sometimes they pay the ultimate price.
Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain paid tribute to her today, saying her death was a reminder of the perils facing reporters covering dreadful events in Syria.