WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s diplomats are working to get wounded Western journalists evacuated from the Syrian city of Homs and the bodies of a U.S. journalist and a French photographer out of the country, the Foreign Ministry said Monday.
Also Monday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he believes the two killed journalists were “assassinated” and that Syria’s President Bashar Assad “must go.”
Earlier this month, Poland’s Embassy in Damascus took charge of representing U.S. interests in Syria, after Washington closed its mission there as a sanction against the escalating violence.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Marcin Bosacki told The Associated Press that Poland’s Embassy is cooperating with U.S., British and French diplomats and with Syrian authorities in efforts “to obtain the evacuation of Western journalists from Homs” and to bring out the bodies of American Marie Colvin and Frenchman Remi Ochlik. Bosacki said the situation was “complicated” and declined to give more details.
Colvin, 56, a veteran correspondent for The Sunday Times of London, and Ochlik, 28, a photojournalist, died Wednesday in a rocket attack on the besieged city of Homs.
Two other journalists, French Edith Bouvier of Le Figaro and British photographer Paul Conroy of the Sunday Times, were wounded in the attack. They have both asked for help leaving the embattled city, which has emerged as the heart of the revolt against Assad’s rule and has been under siege for almost a month.
Also Monday, Sarkozy said plans to evacuate the two injured journalists are taking shape.
He said that Colvin and Ochlik “were assassinated.”
“Because,” he said, “when the Syrian army fires shells several times on a building that they perfectly well knew was a press center … it’s an assassination.”
“What’s happening in Syria is a scandal,” Sarkozy said during an interview on RTL radio.
“Bashar Assad must go. He is disqualified,” the French leader said.
The effort to evacuate the reporters is part of a wider international push to bring aid to people in the areas hardest hit by the regime’s efforts to quash the uprising against Assad’s rule.
French surgeon Jacques Beres, who spent nearly two weeks in Homs, said Monday after returning to Paris that the area where Bouvier is waiting for help is horrible.
“The location where she is is hell. The difficulties are huge. We really need a truce,” Beres told reporters. “On top of that, it seems that she has a fractured femur, you can’t move with such a fracture. It hurts a lot, it’s dangerous. We must pay tribute to the courage of the journalists who went there and who are still there.”
Beres, 70, a co-founder of Doctors Without Borders and Doctors of the World, treated some 80 wounded people, mostly elderly or children but also members of the Syrian Free Army in a makeshift hospital. He said that Homs is a “ghost city, streets are empty.”
“They are being bombed without any possibility of responding. It’s a massacre of civilians.”
Activist groups said Monday the death toll for the 11-month-old uprising had surpassed 8,000. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told The Associated Press that more than 5,800 of the dead were civilians and the rest were either members of the military or army defectors.
The Syrian uprising began in March with mostly peaceful protests in a number of the country’s impoverished provinces. As security forces violently suppressed them, killing thousands, the protests grew and escalated into an increasingly armed insurrection.