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Middle East
3:13 pm
Thu February 23, 2012

Syrian Forces Tightening Grip On Parts Of Homs

Originally published on Thu February 23, 2012 5:10 pm

The Syrian army has cut off all escape routes from a rebel-held neighborhood in Homs, the city that has seen the most intense fighting in recent days, according to opposition activists.

Syrian tanks were seen moving closer to the Baba Amr neighborhood Thursday, as efforts continued to negotiate a cease-fire to evacuate the wounded, including two Western journalists.

One video that did make it out of Homs despite severe Internet problems showed French journalist Edith Bouvier lying on a couch, a blanket over her wounded leg:

She explained that her fractured leg needed medical attention beyond the means of the battered and depleted field hospital in Baba Amr and asked for urgent help to arrange safe passage for wounded civilians to get out of the area.

Near the end of the video, the cameraman begins to explain in English the danger of the situation: "We plead for you to come and evacuate them and give them the right medical attention they need."

But the loud explosion in the background said all that needed saying.

Escape Routes Cut

In a nearby neighborhood, an activist who gave the name Abu Khaled told NPR that Thursday's tank movements not only cut off any escape from Baba Amr, but brought the tanks to the Jobar neighborhood where women and children had been sent for safety. He said, wearily, that the relentless assault could be nearing its endgame.

"If the army enters, it will be the end. In the past, the rebels would fight until they ran out of ammunition, then they would withdraw. But this time there's no way to withdraw, plus they don't want to leave the journalists and the wounded," he said. "Guys I talked with are saying, 'That's it, I'm fighting to the end.' "

Homs activist Omar Shaker — not his real name — told NPR that regardless of whether the army launches a ground assault, those left in Baba Amr are in great jeopardy.

"If they don't die from shelling, they'll die of thirst or hunger. It's very cold — a few days ago it was snowing. There aren't enough blankets, the kerosene for heaters is running out. Parts of Baba Amr are just piles of rubble," he said.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry offered condolences to the families of American journalist Marie Colvin and French photojournalist Remi Ochlik, who were killed in Baba Amr on Wednesday. It also called on journalists to avoid entering the country illegally in order to reach what it called "turbulent and unsafe places."

Despite earlier reports saying that wounded British photographer Paul Conroy was on his way out of Syria, he appeared in a video from Baba Amr in which he asked for help but mainly seemed interested in telling people not to worry.

In the video, he is heard saying, "No, just any help possible, and just reassure family, friends in England that I'm absolutely OK."

The Conroy family will be just as worried as thousands of Syrian families, though, as long as the military assault goes on.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

There is no way out. The Syrian army appears to have cut off all escape routes from a rebel-held neighborhood in Homs. Today, Syrian tanks were seen moving closer to the Baba Amr neighborhood. Meanwhile, efforts to negotiate a ceasefire continued so that the wounded could be evacuated.

BLOCK: In a moment, we'll get a firsthand account from a Syrian activist who was in the house during the attack yesterday that killed American reporter Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik and wounded two other Western journalists. But first, NPR's Peter Kenyon has been monitoring the day's events from neighboring Beirut.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: One video that make it out of Homs today despite severe Internet problems showed French journalist Edith Bouvier lying on a couch, a blanket over her wounded leg.

EDITH BOUVIER: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: She explained that her fractured leg needed medical attention beyond the means of the battered and depleted field hospital in Baba Amr and asked for urgent help to arrange safe passage for wounded civilians to get out of the area.

Near the end of the video, the cameraman begins to explain in English the danger of the situation, but the background noise said all that needed saying.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We plead for you to come and evacuate them and give them the right medical attention they need.

KENYON: In a nearby neighborhood, an activist giving the name Abu Khaled said the tank movements today not only cut off any escape from Baba Amr, but brought the tanks to the Jobar neighborhood where women and children had been sent for safety. He said, wearily, that the relentless assault could be nearing its endgame.

ABU KHALED: (Through translator) If the army enters, it will be the end. In the past, the rebels would fight until they ran out of ammunition, then they would withdraw. But this time, there's no way to withdraw, plus they don't want to leave the journalists and the wounded. Guys I talked with are saying, that's it. I'm fighting to the end.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSIONS)

KENYON: Despite being knocked off the Internet several times, video streams managed to convey some of the sounds of the day. Homs activist Omar Shaker, not his real name, said whether or not the army launches a ground assault, those left in Baba Amr are in mortal jeopardy.

OMAR SHAKER: (Through translator) If they don't die from shelling, they'll die of thirst or hunger. It's very cold, a few days ago it was snowing. There aren't enough blankets. The kerosene for heaters is running out. Parts of Baba Amr are just piles of rubble.

KENYON: The Syrian Foreign Ministry offered condolences to the families of Marie Colvin and French photojournalist Remi Ochlik, who were killed in Baba Amr yesterday, and called on journalists to avoid entering the country illegally in order to reach what it called turbulent and unsafe places.

Despite earlier reports that wounded British photographer Paul Conroy was on his way out of Syria, he appeared in a video from Baba Amr in which he asked for help, but mainly seemed interested in telling people not to worry.

PETER CONROY: No, just any help possible and just reassure family, friends in England that I'm absolutely OK.

KENYON: The Conroy family will be just as worried as thousands of Syrian families, though, as long as the military assault goes on. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.