Javier Espinosa, El Mundo correspondent trapped in besieged Syrian city, is smuggled to safety as fighting rages in Baba Amr
Javier Espinosa, the El Mundo correspondent who had been trapped in a besieged suburb of the Syrian city of Homs, has escaped to safety, according to executives on his paper.
While details were sketchy on Wednesday evening, it appears that Espinosa, who has written a series of dramatic dispatches from Homs – some published in the Guardian – was smuggled out afternoon after making the perilous journey out of the city.
In his dispatches, he detailed the suffering of the suburb of Baba Amr, which has been under siege for 25 days, and he was one of the tiny group of journalists trapped in Homs when two journalists, including the Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin, were killed last week.
Espinosa’s escape was announced as it was disclosed that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad had refused permission for the UN’s humanitarian aid chief, Valerie Amos, to enter the country, despite the urgings of Moscow. Reports also emerged of heavy fighting on all four sides of Baba Amr.
Meanwhile, Kofi Annan, the newly appointed UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, said he would hold talks in New York with the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and member states. He will then meet the Arab League chief, Nabil Elaraby, in Cairo.
According to witnesses’ accounts, the Syrian army’s 4th Division has moved towards the outskirts of the suburb, where troops were involved in heavy clashes with members of the Free Syrian Army.
Espinosa’s escape follows that of Colvin’s colleague, the Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy, who was smuggled to safety on Sunday evening after the journalists were split up during their escape attempt while under attack by government troops. Thirteen activists were killed trying to get them to safety.
The fate of two other remaining journalists – Edith Bouvier of Le Figaro and William Daniels, a photographer based in France – was uncertain. Some reports said they remained trapped in Baba Amr. Bouvier broke her leg badly during the attack that killed Colvin and the French photographer Remi Ochlik last week.
Espinosa’s escape came as the situation in Baba Amr grew more precarious amid claims by a Syrian government official that it was preparing to “clean” the rebel-held areas of Homs.
Sources of reliable news from inside Homs were also scarce on Wednesday as activists in the city were cut off for long periods from communicating with the outside world.
The rebels have sworn to fight to the last man, according to Ahmed, an activist who said he had just left Baba Amr. He said other opposition areas of Homs were also under attack but gave no details of casualties. “Pray for the Free Syrian Army. Do not be miserly in your prayers for them,” activists in the city said in a statement.
“We call on all Syrians in other cities to move and do something to lift the pressure off Baba Amr and Homs. They should act quickly,” Ahmed said via Skype.
However, some activists said leaders of the Farouq Brigade had already left Baba Amr.
Homs, a symbol of opposition to Assad in a nearly year-long revolt, was without power or telephone links, Ahmed said.
YouTube footage posted by activists showed army trucks and tank carriers on a highway purportedly heading for Homs.
Reports from the city could not immediately be verified due to tight government restrictions on media work in Syria, where Assad is facing the gravest challenge of his 11-year rule.
A spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, Hicham Hassan, said the violence was making the humanitarian situation more difficult.
“This makes it even more important for us to repeat our call for a halt in the fighting,” he said.
“It is essential that people who are in need of evacuation – wounded people, women and children – that we are able to offer them that with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.”
Libya will donate $100m (£62m) in humanitarian aid to the Syrian opposition and allow them to open an office in Tripoli, a government spokesman said, in a further sign of its strong support for forces fighting Assad.
Representatives from the Syrian National Council visited Tripoli this week after Mustafa Abdel, chairman of Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC), made the initial offer earlier this month to host an office there.
The United Nations estimated on Tuesday that Assad’s security forces had killed more than 7,500 civilians since the revolt began last March. This figure was significantly higher than previous estimates.
This is disputed by Syria’s government, which said in December that “armed terrorists” had killed more than 2,000 soldiers and police during the unrest.
France said this week that the UN security council was working on a new Syria resolution and urged Russia and China not to veto it, as they have previous drafts.
An outline drafted by Washington focused on humanitarian problems to try to win Chinese and Russian support and isolate Assad, western envoys said.
But they said the draft would also suggest Assad was to blame for the crisis – a stance opposed particularly strongly by his long-time ally, Russia.
But China’s foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, also called for political dialogue in Syria, something ruled out by Assad’s opponents while the bloodshed goes on.
Russia has warned against interference in Syria under a humanitarian guise.
from Peter Beaumont