Up to 13 activists died smuggling the Sunday Times photographer out of the country, it has emerged
Paul Conroy, the Sunday Times photographer wounded in the leg in an attack in the besieged city of Homs, has been smuggled out of Syria in a dramatic and dangerous rescue in which up to 13 activists lost their lives, it has emerged.
Conroy survived the attack last week that killed his colleague Marie Colvin. Three other western journalists, including Edith Bouvier, who was badly injured in the same incident, were reported to be still trapped in Homs on Tuesday night. A claim by the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, that Bouvier had also been evacuated was later retracted by his office.
The news came on the day the United Nations said “well over 7,500 people” had been killed in Syria during the 11-month government crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. This figure is significantly higher than previous estimates.
“While we cannot give exact casualty figures there are credible reports the death toll now often exceeds 100 civilians a day, including many women and children,” said Lynn Pascoe, the UN undersecretary general for political affairs.
“The total killed so far is certainly well over 7,500 people,” he said, adding that the firepower available to the opposition was small compared with that deployed by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Amid the rising death toll, and continuing attacks around Homs by Syrian elite forces, including the army’s 4th Division commanded by Assad’s brother Maher, the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said she believed an argument could now be made that Assad was a “war criminal”.
Her comments came as France said it had started to build consensus for a new UN resolution to call for an immediate end to fighting. The French foreign minister, Alain Juppé, told the French parliament that work had begun at the UN security council on a resolution that “could order an immediate halt to the hostilities and [allow] humanitarian access while renewing support for the Arab League plan”.
He added: “I solemnly ask Russia and China not to block this new resolution.” The two countries attracted international criticism for blocking a previous effort for a resolution to end the violence.
Juppé said shelling in Homs had reached “unbearable and criminal proportions”.
In a further development, Tunisia’s government held open an offer of political asylum to Assad should he leave. The outside world has so far proved powerless to halt the killing in Syria, where repression of initially peaceful protests has spawned an armed insurrection. Russia and China have twice used vetoes to block any action by the security council.
“Unfortunately the international community has also failed in its duty to stop the carnage, and actions and inactions to date have seemed to encourage the regime in its belief that it has impunity to carry on wanton destruction of its own civilians,” Pascoe said.
Pascoe’s comments came as France announced that there would be a third attempt by the UN security council to pass a resolution on Syria, this time specifically to address the humanitarian crisis. Opposition groups say hundreds of civilians have been killed or wounded in the siege of Baba Amr and other rebellious districts in Homs, where terrified residents are enduring dire conditions, without proper supplies of water, food and medicine.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 16 people were killed in Homson Tuesday, a day after 84 were killed in the city, out of an overall death toll of 122 civilians across Syria.
from Peter Beaumont