French journalist killed while reporting in Syria
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REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- A French journalist was killed Wednesday while reporting in the restive Syrian city of Homs.
The France 2 television channel confirmed the death of its reporter, Gilles Jacquier, an award-winning veteran who also worked in Iraq and Afghanistan. The channel’s statement said Jacquier, 43, had been invited to Syria by the government but did not include details about the circumstances of his death.
An Agence France-Presse reporter at the scene told the French news agency that a shell exploded among a group of journalists who were on a government-organized visit to the city.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Jacquier was one of at least eight people killed and 25 injured in the attack. Another foreign journalist was believed to have been injured, according to the Observatory and the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom Expression.
Their accounts could not immediately be verified. The government has barred most foreign journalists from Syria since soon after major anti-government protests erupted in March. But some have been allowed in since the arrival last month of Arab League observers to verify whether the government is fulfilling its promise to end a violent crackdown against the uprising.
Jacquier was believed to be the first Western reporter killed in the nearly 10-month conflict, which has claimed the lives of more than 5,000 people, according to U.N. estimates. The government disputes the figure and says most of the casualties have been members of the security forces, who it says are being attacked by foreign-backed Islamic militants and armed gangs.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe demanded an investigation into Jacquier’s death, saying the country’s ambassador was headed to Homs to ensure that support was provided to those accompanying Jacquier.
‘We vigorously condemn this odious act,’ Juppe said in a statement. ‘It is up to the Syrian authorities to ensure the security of international journalists on their territory and to protect the fundamental liberty that is freedom of information.’
Jihad Makdissi, spokesman for the Syrian Foreign Ministry, said the journalists were meeting with Syrians who have been victims of what he described as ‘terrorism by armed elements in the area.’ He said the government was investigating and would ‘continue to provide all assistance to journalists.’
The semi-official Syrian television station Addounia called the attack a ‘terrorist crime.’
The Syrian Observatory and activists in Homs said the attack took place in a neighborhood that is loyal to the government. They blamed the deaths on Syrian authorities, who they accused of trying to intimidate journalists who might want to report in a city that has been at the epicenter of the unrest.
-- Alexandra Zavis and Alexandra Sandels