Two foreign journalists have been killed in Homs, as activists report the continued shelling of a district of the Syrian city, amid warnings of an escalating humanitarian crisis.
Omar Shakir, an activist in the neighbourhood of Bab Amr, told Al Jazeera that the deaths of Marie Colvin, a US reporter working for the UK’s Sunday Times newspaper, and French photographer Remi Ochlik occurred as a building used by activists as a media centre was shelled on Wednesday.
Nine people were reportedly killed in addition to the journalists. Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy was said to be injured, along with two other reporters.
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Victoria Nuland, a US state department spokesperson, said the incident was “another example of the shameless brutality of the Assad regime”.
France demanded access to the victims of the attack and summoned Syria’s envoy to Paris.
“I am asking the Syrian government to immediately stop attacks and respect its humanitarian obligations,” Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, said in a statement.
“I have asked our embassy in Damascus to require the Syrian authorities provide secure medical access to assist the victims with the support of the International Committee of the Red Cross.”
Government forces bombarded the Bab Amr neighbourhood for a 20th straight day, according to activists, leaving at least 30 people killed in the area on Wednesday.
“Marie was an extraordinary figure in the life of The Sunday Times, driven by a passion to cover wars in the belief that what she did mattered,” John Witherow, the Sunday Times editor, said in a statement.
“She believed profoundly that reporting could curtail the excesses of brutal regimes and make the international community take notice.”
The statement said the newspaper was doing what it could to get Conroy to safety and to recover Colvin’s body.
In a phone interview with British broadcaster BBC on Tuesday, Colvin described the situation in the area as “absolutely sickening”.
She said she had witnessed the death of a two-year-old boy after he was hit by shrapnel, and said there was a “constant stream of civilians” in the field clinic she visited.
“No one here can understand how the international community can let this happen,” she said.
Colvin was an experienced foreign correspondent and was named Foreign Reporter of the Year by the British Press Awards in 2001. She lost an eye in a grenade attack while working in Sri Lanka.
Ochlik had photographed the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions as well as the war in Libya. His work was published in Le Monde magazine, Time magazine and The Wall Street Journal, among other outlets.
Hours after the bombardment that killed the journalists, Syria’s information ministry said journalists in the country illegally should report to the government.
“The ministry asks all foreign journalists that have entered Syria illegally to go to the nearest centre for immigration and passports to resolve the situation according to the laws in force,” the ministry said in a statement on Syria TV.
Shortage of medicine
In Homs, activist Hadi al-Abdallah, described the humanitarian situation in Bab Amr as “catastrophic”.
“Water has been cut off from Bab Amr for 18 days,” he told Al Jazeera on Wednesday morning. “There’s no electricity, cooking oil or even bread. Many people are literally on the brink of starvation.
“People have fled their homes in fear of being bombed. They took refuge in a mosque, and there they were bombed too.”
The Homs Revolutionary Council reported a shortage of medicine, and said a large number of killed civilians were buried under the rubble of buildings damaged in the shelling.
In the nearby Inshaat neighbourhood, the council said security forces, supported by the army and by armoured vehicles, had carried out house raids and arrests.
Bab Amr is a stronghold of the armed opposition, but activists said most of those killed in the assault on the area were civilians.
The Local Co-ordination Committees says about 3,000 people have been killed in Homs province since the uprising began in March last year. The activist network says more than 8,000 people have been killed nationwide.
Official media said government forces were targeting “armed terrorist groups who have been terrifying citizens and attacking security forces and robbing public and private property”.
State-run news agency SANA cited residents of Homs saying food and services were available and that reports claiming the opposite were “lies”.
The opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) said on Wednesday it was coming to the view that military intervention was the only solution to the nearly year-old crisis in the country.
“We are really close to seeing this military intervention as the only solution. There are two evils, military intervention or protracted civil war,” Basma Kodmani, an SNC spokeswoman, told a news conference in Paris.
Kodmani said the SNC was also proposing that Russia, an ally of Syria, help persuade Damascus to guarantee safe passage to humanitarian convoys ferrying aid to civilians. She said the SNC proposed setting up corridors from Lebanon to the besieged city of Homs, from Turkey to Idlib and from Jordan to Deraa.
Meanwhile, Russia’s foreign ministry spokesman said Russia was supporting the International Committee of the Red Cross’s call for a daily two-hour ceasefire to provide aid to the population of Syria.
Alexander Lukashevich said Russia was using its contacts with both the Syrian government and the opposition to help settle humanitarian issues.