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8:02pm UK, Saturday March 03, 2012
China has urged the Syrian government and rebels to immediately end all acts of violence, after the bodies of two Western journalists who were killed in the country were handed over to the French ambassador and a Polish diplomat in Damascus.
A statement from the Chinese foreign ministry called for political dialogue under the mediation of the UN or an Arab League envoy.
Veteran war reporter Marie Colvin, of the Sunday Times, and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed in a rocket attack in the heavily bombarded Baba Amr neighbourhood of Homs.
Their bodies in wooden coffins were transferred outside a hospital in Damascus and driven away in an ambulance. The journalists’ belongings were placed in black plastic bags.
Ms Colvin, 56, and Mr Ochlik, 28, had sneaked into Syria illegally to report on the government crackdown in the country, where thousands have been killed.
But they were trapped inside Baba Amr, a target of heavy Syrian military shelling, and died on February 22.
Their bodies will be repatriated but it is not yet clear when they will be flown out of Syria.
Meanwhile, aid workers are still trying to enter Baba Amr amid reports of more shelling.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has told Sky News that contrary to earlier reports suggesting an aid convoy had entered Baba Amr, the Syrian authorities have told them it is still too dangerous to deliver supplies.
Syrian troops were reportedly shelling areas of Homs again on Saturday.
An ICRC team of aid workers, in a convoy of seven trucks, have been trying to reach hundreds of people in Baba Amr who are thought to have been injured in the weeks of shelling by the regime’s forces.
Paul Conroy, who was smuggled out of Homs, speaking to Sky News
They were prevented from entering the district on Friday amid mounting claims of revenge killings by government troops who seized control of the district when the rebel fighters retreated.
ICRC spokesman Sean Maguire told Sky News: “We travelled to Homs with relief intended for Baba Amr but we have been told that it is not safe to proceed.
“The ambulances of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent were able to get into Baba Amr twice this week to evacuate some of the wounded when there was a short pause in combat during the most intense period of fighting.
“We have been saying all along that we think it is vital that we get in and we are pushing and persisting with that request.”
He said the humanitarian situation across Syria is worsening “day-by-day and hour-by-hour”.
“I think this is very much a live crisis,” he added.
“Yes, we have been focused very much on Baba Amr where there have been horrific testimonies from the journalists that have escaped from there – the suffering and deprivation, lack of food, constant shelling, lack of water and cold weather.
“But that is just one pocket of Syria. There are many other areas of Syria where there is combat and bombardment, and people being forced out of their homes.”
Meanwhile, Syria‘s state-run news agency reported that a suicide bomber detonated his car in the southern city of Deraa on Saturday, causing several casualties.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least two people were killed and several others wounded in the explosion.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said he has received “grisly reports” of executions, arbitrary arrests and torture by government forces in Homs.
Mr Ban told the UN General Assembly in New York there had been heavy civilian losses in the area in his toughest criticism of the regime in Damascus to date.
Photographer Paul Conroy says ‘any talking is now too late’
“This atrocious assault is all the more appalling for having been waged by the government itself, systematically attacking its own people,” he said.
But Syria’s ambassador to the UN, Bashar Ja’afari, accused Mr Ban of “extremely virulent rhetoric which confines itself to slandering a government based on reports, opinions or hearsay”.
He said the Syrian government was fighting armed terrorist groups.
Their comments come as British photographer Paul Conroy told Sky News he had witnessed a “massacre” in Baba Amr.
Mr Conroy, who survived the attack that killed Ms Colvin and Mr Ochlik, said hundreds of people were hiding in the wreckage of their homes “waiting to die”.
“In years to come we are going to sit and say, how did we let this happen under our nose?” he said, speaking from a London hospital where he is being treated for shrapnel wounds after being smuggled out of Syria.
“This is not a war it is a massacre,” he added.
:: The Syrian government severely restricts foreign journalists’ access to the country. As a result, Emma Hurd compiled this report from Beirut.