A wounded British journalist who was trapped in the besieged Syrian city of Homs along with other journalists and activists has been smuggled to safety in neighbouring Lebanon.
Paul Conroy was working as a photographer for the UK’s Sunday Times newspaper when he suffered injuries in an attack last week in the Bab Amr neighbourhood that killed his colleague Marie Colvin and another journalist.
Meanwhile, a special debate is under way at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, with Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in the country.
Conroy’s father, Les Conroy, confirmed to British media on Tuesday that his son was in Lebanon. Edith Bouvier, a French journalist wounded in the same attack, was also reported to have escaped, but Al Jazeera was not able to confirm that news.
The French embassy in Lebanon also said it could not confirm whether Bouvier had been evacuated from Syria.
It was unclear how Conroy escaped from Syria, a day after the failure of efforts by International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) teams to reach the injured journalists.
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent did manage to evacuate three people from Baba Amr on Monday, but not the foreign reporters, the ICRC said.
Syrian security forces continued their weeks-long assault on rebel-held areas of Homs on Tuesday, as well as shelling an opposition stronghold in the town of Helfaya in Hama province, killing 20 people, activists said.
Activists said the deaths of Sunni villagers there were among at least 100 killed in the province in the last two weeks in revenge for rebel Free Syrian Army attacks on security forces commanded by members of Assad’s minority Alawite sect.
|People who live in Damascus tell Al Jazeera |
of the daily battle they face to survi
In Homs, there were reports that units of an elite armoured division led by Maher al-Assad, brother of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, had been deployed on the streets.
Opening Tuesday’s debate at the UN Human Rights Council, Pillay said the humanitarian situation in the country was dire.
“There must be an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to end the fighting and bombardments,” PIllay said.
“The Syrian army has reportedly used tanks, mortars, rockets and artillery to cordon off cities, and shelled densely populated neighbourhoods in what appears to be an indiscriminate attack on civilian areas.”
The opening of the debate prompted a walkout by Syria’s Geneva-based UN ambassador, who said he was “withdrawing from sterile discussion”.
The European Union on Tuesday published a list of senior Syrian officials, including several government ministers, targeted by a latest round of sanctions as the death toll from a crackdown on an anti-government uprising continued to grow.
Those added to the list included ministers with responsibility for health, education, transport, and communications and technology, who were all accused of providing practical support for the crackdown.
According to the list, Wael Nader Al-Halqi, the minister of health, ordered hospitals to deny care to protesters, while Saleh al-Rashed, the education minister, allowed schools to be used as makeshift prisons.
Emad Abdul-Ghani Sabouni, the minister for communications and technology, seriously hampered free access to the media, while Fayssal Abbas, the minister of transport, provided logistical support for the repression, the journal said.
Others targeted were Mansour Fadlallah Azzam, minister of presidential affairs and an adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; Sufian Allaw, the petroleum minister; and Adnan Slakho, the minister of industry.
A previous list of officials targeted by sanctions announced in November included Maher al-Assad, the president’s brother and commander of the Republican Guard; Mohammad Ibrahim Al-Chaar, the interior minister; and Ali Mamlouk and Abd al-Fatah Qudsiyeh, the heads of general and military intelligence, among others.
EU foreign ministers approved the sanctions, which also banned the purchase of gold, precious metals and diamonds from the country, and banned Syrian cargo flights from the EU, at a meeting in Brussels on Monday.
Meanwhile, Assad decreed that a new constitution was in force on Tuesday after officials said nearly 90 per cent of voters had endorsed it in a referendum.
Opposition groups and Western leaders seeking Assad’s removal denounced on Sunday’s vote as a charade that diverted attention from the violence in Homs and elsewhere.