| 12.01,12. 03:18 AM |
French Journalist among 7 Dead as Rocket Hits Reporters in Homs
A French journalist was killed on Wednesday in the flashpoint central Syrian city of Homs, the first Western journalist to be killed since protests erupted in March.
The public France 2 channel identified the slain journalist as Gilles Jacquier, one of its reporters. The 43-year-old joined public television in 1991 and was an award-winning veteran who had covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and Israel.
A number of other reporters were also wounded when a rocket exploded as they were on a government-organized trip, activists said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said "rockets hit between the quarters of Akrama and al-Nuzha where there was a group of journalists. A Western journalist was killed, as well as six Syrians, and there were also wounded."
Militants in Homs blamed the authorities for the incident. The Observatory did not lay any blame.
An AFP photographer said one of those hurt was a Belgian, who was hit in the eye.
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. A French colleague probably did not survive."
Meanwhile, the pro-regime Dunia TV said "eight people, including a Belgian journalist, were killed and 25 other people were hurt in an attack in Homs."
Later on Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe demanded a probe into the death of the French television 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.
He said the French ambassador in Damascus would travel "immediately" to the scene in Homs and asked the Syrian authorities to assist the other people who were accompanying the reporter when he died.
"We demand that an investigation be conducted in order to shed light on the circumstances of this incident," Juppe added.
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.
Homs is one of the major hot spots of the 10-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
The United Nations estimated last month that more than 5,000 people had been killed in the crackdown on anti-regime protests, and many of them have been gunned down during street protests.