French journalists evacuated from Syria to Lebanon
This image from amateur video purports to show Edith Bouvier of Le Figaro in a makeshift clinic in Homs, Syria, on Feb. 23, 2012. (Photo: AP)
Two French journalists who were trapped in the besieged Syrian city of Homs were on Thursday evacuated to Lebanon, where the French government was preparing to fly them home.
At the same time, videos posted on the Internet showed that American journalist Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik were buried in Homs, where they were killed eight days ago in shelling that also caught their two French colleagues.
Freelance reporter Edith Bouvier, whose femur was shattered during heavy shelling of Homs's rebel-held Baba Amro district, and photographer William Daniels were brought across the border into Lebanon by Syrian rebels, the French government said.
President Nicolas Sarkozy told reporters in Brussels, where he was attending a European summit, that he spoke to Bouvier by telephone shortly after their arrival and that a government plane would be sent to fly them to France.
They were the last foreign journalists reported stranded in Homs during the Syrian government assault, which pushed rebels out of their positions in the city on Thursday.
"Edith Bouvier and William Daniels are safely in Lebanon and will very shortly be under the protection of our embassy in Beirut," Sarkozy said.
Foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said heavy snow in the area meant the group might not arrive in Beirut before Friday, but said the journalists were in "excellent spirits".
French embassy officials, including a doctor, had met the group at the border and found Bouvier's leg wound to be in a stable condition that meant she could fly home. A government plane would likely leave Paris in the morning, he said.
"They are en route from the Lebanese border to Beirut," Valero said. "Either they will reach Beirut tonight or they will stop on the way and set off again tomorrow morning. We are not too sure yet because the weather is bad."
The outside world has proved powerless to halt the killing in Syria, where repression of initially peaceful protests against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad has spawned an armed insurrection by army deserters and others.
Spanish journalist Javier Espinosa has also crossed from Syria into neighbouring Lebanon, activists said on Wednesday.
A day earlier, British photographer Paul Conroy, who was also wounded in the Feb. 22 shelling, was smuggled into Lebanon by activists in an operation in which some of his rescuers were killed.
The attack on Baba Amro killed Ochlik, an award-winning photographer, and Colvin, a veteran Sunday Times war correspondent on Feb 22, five days before the date of the videos.
A man who appeared in the videos showed two bodies wrapped in white shrouds, marked with their names, and said they were buried because electricity cuts in the besieged city meant the bodies could no longer be prevented from decaying.
"Marie Colvin was martyred in Baba Amro because she was sending ... a humanitarian message, carrying the truth about what was happening in Baba Amro," said the man, wearing medic's clothes, surgical mask and a stethoscope.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said that while he was "immensely happy" that Bouvier and Daniels had been brought to safety, his thoughts were also with the families of Ochlik, Colvin and all the Syrian victims of the attack.
"In my own name and on behalf of the French government, I very sincerely thank all those who, often risking their lives, made this outcome possible," he said in a statement.