Feb
23

Syria: shelling continues despite outrage over Marie Colvin’s killing – live updates

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• Protests in Homs in tribute to Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik
• Ban Ki-moon calls for sending of relief envoy to Syria
• Renewed bombardment on eve of Friends of Syria talks

9.15am: The veteran French surgeon Dr Jacques Bérès, who has been operating in Homs for three weeks, says he no longer believes he can leave the city, which is being “almost constantly bombarded”.

The former MSF chairman and co-founder spoke to Le Nouvel Observateur last night by satellite phone, telling the magazine that the city was starting to look like Beirut during the war and that he was running low on anaesthetics.

Our colleague Lizzy Davies provides this translation of his comments:

It’s hard, very tiring. And now I don’t think I’ll be able to leave either that side of the city or the other. We tried yesterday to transfer the whole hospital towards Damascus but we were stopped on the road; there were people killed…I’ve been here now for about three weeks; I am very tired. I thought I was going to go home tomorrow and I had organised a means of transport. But it seems there is no longer a chance of getting out…

It’s starting to look like Beirut during the war. Cars are on fire, buildings on fire, holes in the walls of houses and lots, lots of injured- sometimes Free Syria Army fighters but mainly civilians- men, women and children. They are not managing to evacuate the most vulnerable people…These men are very brave and believe victory is possible. I do too, but it is claiming so many human lives. The neighbourhood is being almost constantly bombarded.

The humanitarian situation, said Beres, was nearing disaster.

There are not many anaesthetics left and if more don’t arrive secretly from abroad it’s going to get difficult…There is very little left: not much food, not much water, and there is no more electricity to pump. There are generators, but no one has any more fuel to power them.

8.44am: (all times GMT) Welcome to Middle East Live. Today’s press coverage of Syria is dominated by the killing of Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin. Despite the international outrage the killing provoked, the shelling of Homs appears to have intensified.

Here’s a roundup of the main developments.

Syria

• Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces bombarded opposition districts in the city of Homs for the 20th day, despite the international condemnation of the reported killing of more than 80 people on Wednesday, Reuters reports. “Explosions are shaking the whole of Homs. God have mercy,” Abdallah al-Hadi said from the city.

Activists held a demonstration in tribute to Colvin and photojournalist Remi Ochlik, in Homs last night.

The footage was purportedly filmed in al-Qousour, a district in the north of the city.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon has asked UN emergency relief chief Valerie Amos to visit Syria to assess the humanitarian situation. The call came after Ban met the head of the Arab League Nabil alArabi in London.

The deaths of Colvin and Ochlik, and the rising toll of civilian dead in Syria, have prompted renewed calls for an end to the Assad regime. “That’s enough now,” said French president Nicolas Sarkozy said. “This regime must go and there is no reason that Syrians don’t have the right to live their lives and choose their destiny freely. If journalists were not there, the massacres would be a lot worse.”

The journalists were killed in a deliberate attack on a media centre in Homs, according to the Times.

Local sources said that seven opposition activists were caught and killed as they tried to take medical aid to the journalists, but that could not be confirmed.It appears that the building was targeted deliberately. Syrian activists said that it was hit by more than ten shells, and last week its top floor was destroyed by rockets.

On Wednesday Residents of Homs said they are preparing for a final onslaught as tank reinforcements moved in and scores were in killed in the latest bombardment. Up to 60 of those reported killed in Homs on Wednesday were killed in an afternoon artillery barrage. Activists said some military defectors who have joined a rebel army were among the dead. “This was in one part of the city only,” said one activist. “The shelling was with very heavy weapons. It was not mortars or rockets.”

Colvin’s death was greeted by an outpouring of tributes and appreciations by the many colleagues who had worked with her, writes Peter Beaumont.

Marie Colvin had a knack of finding her way to places where other journalists had not been, getting there first and staying when others had long gone. Colleagues would arrive in conflict zones to find Colvin already in situ, usually hunched over her laptop or talking urgently into her mobile phone to one of her sources from her vast contacts book.

While much international attention has focused on Homs, up the road in Idlib, another town has become one of the country’s most contested areas, according to the LA Times.

In Maarat Numan, strategically situated on the main highway between Syria’s two major cities, Aleppo and Damascus, rebels loosely associated with the Free Syrian Army, an insurgent group based on the Turkish side of the border, are holding their own against security forces.

Rebels appear to control most residential districts, where images of the tricolor opposition flag are spray-painted on countless walls. But military checkpoints and carefully placed snipers control two main thoroughfares intersecting in town. President Bashar Assad’s government seems intent on holding the two main roads and occasionally firing into rebel neighborhoods, driving people indoors.

The Syrian government has accused the international community of trying to use medical emergency for a political ends after the Red Cross called for a ceasefire in the worst hit areas. In letters to the Red Cross, the UN and others, the Syrian government claimed terrorist groups had targeted hospitals.

Iran

UN experts have returned from Tehran empty-handed after two days of talks focused on Iran’s nuclear programme, narrowing the options for diplomacy, the Independent reports. In unusually frank comments, the International Atomic Energy Agency said it was “disappointed” with Iran’s refusal to allow inspectors to visit sensitive military sites amid widely-held suspicions that Tehran is building an atomic bomb.

Matthew Weaver
Brian Whitaker

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from Matthew Weaver, Brian Whitaker

via http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/middle-east-live/2012/feb/23/syria-marie-colvin-homs-bombardment-continues-live

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