Wounded Western journalists 'safe in Lebanon'

28th February 2012, Comments 0 comments

Two wounded Western journalists, Paul Conroy from Britain and France's Edith Bouvier, have safely crossed into Lebanon from the besieged Syrian rebel city of Homs, a Lebanese official said on Tuesday.

An international NGO, Avaaz, said three activists were killed in a rescue operation for the journalists.

"The two journalists, Edith Bouvier and Paul Conroy, arrived overnight in Lebanon and they are safe," the Lebanese official told AFP, on condition of anonymity.

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, confirming the news of the escape of Le Figaro newspaper journalist Bouvier, told reporters that he was "very happy that the (reporter's) nightmare had come to an end."

The Foreign Office in London, meanwhile, said freelance photographer Conroy was "receiving full consular assistance from our embassy."

Both journalists were wounded in a February 22 rocket attack on a makeshift media centre in Baba Amr, a rebel stronghold in the central Syrian city of Homs, in which US veteran reporter Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed.

Two other journalists trapped in Homs are William Daniels, a photographer who also was on assignment for Le Figaro, and Spaniard Javier Espinosa who works for the Spanish daily El Mundo.

Conroy's employers, Britain's Sunday Times newspaper, said he was "in good shape and good spirits" following his escape.

Wissam Tarif of Avaaz said his organisation coordinated the rescue together with Syrian activists from the battered city of Homs and across the border into Lebanon.

"Avaaz coordinated with Syrian activists Conroy's exit from Homs and his arrival in Lebanon," Tarif told AFP in Beirut, without mention of the other trapped Western journalists.

The Syrian Red Crescent, meanwhile, said its rescuers left Homs on Tuesday after talks to evacuate the journalists foundered.

A total of 13 activists were killed trying to assist the Western journalists and to bring in aid to Baba Amr, according to Avaaz.

"Today, a network of Syrian activists coordinated by the global campaign organisation Avaaz helped the international journalist Paul Conroy escape into Lebanon," Avaaz said.

"Three activists were killed by Syrian targeted shelling as they tried to assist the journalists through Baba Amr," Avaaz said.

"While Paul Conroy successfully escaped the city, 10 activists died bringing relief supplies into Baba Amr," the NGO added.

On Tuesday, the Spanish foreign ministry said Espinosa was known to be still in Homs on Monday. "The government is doing everything possible to help him," a ministry spokesman said in Madrid.

A Lebanese activist confirmed that Conroy had been smuggled during the night from Homs to Lebanon through an illegal crossing.

"Conroy and people accompanying him entered the Wadi Khaled region through the Hnayder border village after midnight on motorbikes," said the activist in northern Lebanon who helps smuggle wounded people out of Syria.

The northern region of Wadi Khaled borders Syria and is close to the province of Homs.

Conroy, 47, issued a video appeal for help last week, saying he was injured and being looked after by Free Syrian Army rebels. Bouvier was also seen urging medical assistance in another video.

Avaaz said that "35 heroic Syrian activists" volunteered to help in the evacuation process and that the operation "was carried out by Syrians with the help of Avaaz. No other agency was involved."

"Paul Conroy's rescue today is a huge relief but this must be tempered with the news that three remain unaccounted for and with our respects for the incredibly courageous activists who died during the evacuation attempts," said Ricken Patel, executive director of Avaaz.

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© 2012 AFP

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