French authorities have demanded an investigation into the killing of French television reporter Gilles Jacquier in the Syrian city of Homs, the first reported instance of a Western journalist being killed in 10 months of Syrian unrest.
France 2 television confirmed one of its journalists had been killed. Syria’s Addounia TV, which gave a total death toll of eight, said a Dutch journalist was among 25 people wounded.
“France 2 television has just learned with a great deal of sorrow the death of reporter Gilles Jacquier in Homs,” France 2 said in a statement, adding it did not have details of the circumstances of his death.
Jacquier - a war correspondent who had previously reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and other hotspots - had been invited to Syria by the government and was in Homs with other journalists reporting on the situation in the city, the television station said.
Syria barred most foreign media from the country soon after demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule began in March, but more journalists have been admitted since the Arab League sent a monitoring mission last month to check if authorities were complying with an Arab plan to halt the bloodshed.
“Gilles Jacquier was just doing his journalist job by covering the violent events in Syria as a result of the unacceptable repression of the regime against the population,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy said.
A Belgian journalist in Homs, who asked not to be named, said a group of reporters had been visiting a pro-Assad neighbourhood of the city when several grenades or mortar rounds landed. One fell on a school that was empty at the time.
People were tending a small girl who was bleeding heavily when another explosion struck nearby. “I saw three bodies,” the journalist told Reuters by telephone. “There was a lot of chaos, blood, hysteria.”
He said a Dutch freelance journalist had suffered a shrapnel wound in the face, but was not seriously hurt.
Syria’s Addounia TV showed footage it said was filmed during the attack. In the video, an explosion is heard and then a man tells the camera in Arabic “this is terrorism”. Then the camera shows a group of journalists filming on the roof of a building. Another explosion is heard close to that building.
Footage then shows a man lying on the pavement, bleeding. A group of men rush to the scene and put the casualties in the back seat of several taxis.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe condemned the attack and demanded the authorities carry out an immediate investigation.
“It is up to the Syrian authorities to ensure the safety of international journalists on its territory and to protect the fundamental freedom which is freedom of the press,” Juppe said in a statement. He said Paris’ ambassador had been sent to Homs.
France 2 had a two-man team in Homs as part of an organised trip by the government with other international media, France 2 spokesman Thierry Thuillier told i-Tele television.
In a statement, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said a mortar fell on the group of journalists.
It said a professional Syrian reporter and two citizen journalists had already been killed since the violence began.
Rami Abdulrahman, of the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in Britain, quoted activists in Homs as saying the journalists had been near the Akrama neighbourhood of Homs at the time.
The death is likely to raise the tension between Paris and Damascus. France has led Western efforts to try to force Assad to end the crackdown and has suggested a need to set up zones to protect civilians - the first proposal by a major Western power for outside intervention on the ground.
Juppe said on Tuesday that Assad was “inciting violence and blind to reality” following a speech in which he vowed to strike “terrorists” with an iron fist and derided efforts by the Arab League to halt the violence.