French journalist killed, other reporters wounded in Homs blast

Journalist Gilles Jacquier was among eight other people killed by the rocket attack and 25 others wounded. (Agencies)

A Western journalist was killed and a number of other reporters were wounded on Wednesday when a rocket exploded in the Syrian city of Homs, according to witnesses on the scene.

France 2 television confirmed the death of their French journalist, Gilles Jacquier, and the government has demanded a probe into killing of the TV reporter in Syria, according to AFP news agency.

The journalists were in Homs, one of the major hot spots of the 10-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, on a visit organized by the authorities to cover news reports.

Jacquier was among eight other people killed by the rocket attack and 25 others wounded.

Rami Abdulrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters the journalists were near the Akrama neighborhood of Homs. Activists in the city said the journalists were hit by grenades or rocket fire, he said.

Foreign Minister Alain Juppe called for a probe into the death of the French journalist.

“We vigorously condemn this odious act,” he said in a statement that also called for the circumstances of the death to be clarified and for Syrian authorities to protect foreign journalists.

Separately, state news agency SANA said an army colonel and two soldiers were killed and two others wounded by a “terrorist group” as they were travelling to join their units outside Damascus.

And another colonel was captured by an “armed terrorist group” as he headed to a military airport in Homs province.

Global press watchdog Reporters Without Borders also demanded an inquiry, and called on the Arab League observers deployed to monitor the Syrian conflict to play a role.

“Gilles Jacquier is the first foreign journalist killed in Syria since the start of the uprising, March 15, 2011. All our thoughts are with his family and colleagues,” the group said.

Bertrand Coq, a journalist with whom Jacquier in 2003 jointly won France’s top journalism prize, the Prix Albert Londres, paid tribute to his late colleague.

“Gilles was an excellent war reporter,” he said, noting that Jacquier took a bullet in the shoulder while on an assignment in the West Bank in 2003.

The executive editor of Jacquier’s television station, Thierry Thuillier, said he was “one of the best reporters in France 2, an exceptional man.”

“We are all in shock. We are going to miss him a lot,” he said.

The station said he had been authorized by the Syrian authorities to work in Homs and had a valid visa that allowed him to report from the country.

“They were not working undercover,” it said in a statement.

Jens Franssen, a reporter with Belgium’s VRT television, said around 15 journalists on the visit were in Homs, when “three or four grenades exploded near us.”

Militants in Homs blamed the authorities for the incident.

The European Union’s top diplomat Catherine Ashton also condemned the killing and demanded a rapid investigation.

“The High Representative calls for a rapid investigation to clarify the circumstances leading to this tragedy,” a statement by Ashton’s press office said of the death of the France 2 reporter in the city of Homs.

Jacquier is the first Western reporter to die in Syria since the anti-regime protests erupted in March.

“The Syrian authorities have a responsibility to guarantee the safety of journalists in their country,” the statement said.

“The press must be allowed to carry out its vital role of providing independent information on events in Syria without fear of violence or repression.”

Hague condemns deaths

British Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned the killings of the French journalist and several Syrians in Homs.

“I condemn the incident in Homs today which caused the death of at least eight civilians including a French journalist, Gilles Jacquier,” Hague said in a statement.

“These deaths highlight once again the terrible price being paid by the people of Homs, as well as the courage of journalists who take great personal risks to bring to light what is happening to the people of Syria.”

Hague repeated his support for the Arab League’s efforts to stop the deadly crackdown on protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and urged Damascus to implement in full the commitments made to the League in November.

“It must end the violence, withdraw troops from the streets, release all detainees and engage in a meaningful dialogue with opposition groups,” Hague said.

“We call again on President Assad to step down and heed the will of the Syrian people.”

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