Trapped Span­ish re­porter es­capes from Syria

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY BEN HUB­BARD

BEIRUT | A Span­ish jour­nal­ist who was trapped in Homs es­caped to Le­banon on Wed­nes­day, as the gov­ern­ment threat­ened a new of­fen­sive to “cleanse” a rebel-held neigh­bor­hood of the be­sieged Syr­ian city.

Javier Espinosa was one of four for­eign re­porters trapped in the rebel-con­trolled Baba Amr neigh­bor­hood of Homs since a rocket at­tack last week by Syr­ian mil­i­tary forces killed two Western jour­nal­ists and wounded two.

His do­mes­tic part­ner, Mon­ica Gar­cia Pri­eto, said he had safely crossed the bor­der into Le­banon. But two French jour­nal­ists, Edith Bou­vier and Wil­liam Daniels, re­main in Baba Amr, she said.

Ms. Bou­vier and Bri­tish pho­tog­ra­pher Paul Con­roy were wounded last week in a gov­ern­ment rocket at­tack on a makeshift me­dia cen­ter in the city that killed Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist Marie Colvin and French pho­tog­ra­pher Remi Och­lik.

Mr. Con­roy was smug­gled into Le­banon on Tues­day af­ter leav­ing the neigh­bor­hood late Sun­day. Ac­tivists said 13 Syr­i­ans try­ing to help Mr. Con­roy get out were killed in the op­er­a­tion.

The or­deal of the jour­nal­ists, who sneaked into Syria il­le­gally to re­port on the 11-month up­ris­ing against au­thor­i­tar­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad, has drawn at­ten­tion to the cen­tral city of Homs, parts of which have been un­der a gov­ern­ment siege and shelling cam­paign for nearly four weeks.

Height­en­ing fears about the re­main­ing two jour­nal­ists, a Syr­ian of­fi­cial said Wed­nes­day that the gov­ern­ment was plan­ning a ma­jor of­fen­sive against Baba Amr.

“Baba Amr will be un­der com­plete con­trol in the com­ing hours, and we’ll cleanse all the armed el­e­ments from the area,” he said, speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity un­der gov­ern­ment pro­to­cols.

It was vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to reach any­one in­side Baba Amr on Wed­nes­day. Ac­tivists else­where in the city said their col­leagues based in Baba Amr had quit com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the out­side be­cause of fears the army would trace their sig­nals to tar­get them.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion sum­moned Syria’s se­nior en­voy in the U.S. to ex­press outrage over the of­fen­sive on Homs. The State Depart­ment said its top diplo­mat for the Mideast, Jef­frey Felt­man, met with Zuheir Jab­bour, the high­est-rank­ing of­fi­cial at the Syr­ian Em­bassy in Washington.

Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton told mem­bers of Congress on Tues­day that Mr. As­sad could be con­sid­ered a war crim­i­nal.

U.N. hu­man­i­tar­ian chief Va­lerie Amos said Syria had de­nied her re­peated re­quests to visit.

The U.N. has ap­pointed for­mer Sec­re­tary-gen­eral Kofi An­nan as the joint U.n.-arab League en­voy to Syria, but the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment said it has not yet de­cided if he can en­ter the coun­try.

The U.N. es­ti­mates that more than 7,500 peo­ple have been killed since the anti-as­sad up­ris­ing started last March. Ac­tivists put the num­ber at more than 8,000.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Flames rise from a house in the Baba Amr neigh­bor­hood in Homs prov­ince af­ter Syr­ian gov­ern­ment shelling. A pho­to­jour­nal­ist and a war cor­re­spon­dent were killed last week as Syr­ian forces in­tensely shelled Homs.

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