Spanish reporter escapes Syria to Lebanon

Associated Press
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Residents stand by their house destroyed in clashes between the Free Syrian Army and President Assad's forces in Sarmin, north of Syria, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012. According to residents of the city at least fourteen people were killed yesterday during clashes between the Free Syrian Army and the government forces. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

BEIRUT (AP) — A Spanish journalist who was trapped in Homs escaped to Lebanon Wednesday as the government threatened a new offensive to "cleanse" a rebel-held neighborhood of the besieged Syrian city.

Javier Espinosa was one of four foreign reporters trapped in the rebel-controlled Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs since a rocket attack last week by Syrian military forces killed two Western journalists and wounded two.

His domestic partner, Monica Garcia Prieto, said he had safely crossed the border into Lebanon. But two French journalists, Edith Bouvier and William Daniels, remain in Baba Amr, she said.

Bouvier and British photographer Paul Conroy were wounded last week in a government rocket attack on a makeshift media center in the city that killed American journalist Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik. Conroy was smuggled into Lebanon Tuesday after leaving the neighborhood late Sunday. Activists said 13 Syrians trying to help Conroy get out were killed in the operation.

The ordeal of the journalists, who sneaked into Syria illegally to report on the 11-month uprising against authoritarian President Bashar Assad, has drawn attention to the central city of Homs, parts of which have been under a government siege and shelling campaign for nearly four weeks.

Heightening fears about the remaining two journalists, a Syrian official said Wednesday that the government was planning a major offensive against Baba Amr.

"Baba Amar will be under control complete control in the coming hours and we'll cleanse all the armed elements from the area," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity under government protocols.

It was virtually impossible to reach anyone inside Baba Amr on Wednesday. Activists elsewhere in the city said their colleagues based in Baba Amr had quit communicating with the outside because of fears the army would trace their signals to target them.

The Obama administration summoned Syria's senior envoy in the U.S. to express outrage over the offensive on Homs. The State Department said its top diplomat for the Mideast, Jeffrey Feltman, met with Zuheir Jabbour, the highest ranking official at the Syrian Embassy in Washington.

A statement said Feltman expressed "outrage over the monthlong campaign of brutality and indiscriminate shelling" in Homs. He told Zuheir the Syrian regime must end the violence, remove its military from cities and accept an Arab-proposed plan for a transition of power.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told members of Congress on Tuesday that Assad could be considered a war criminal.

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said Syria had denied her repeated requests to visit. The U.N. has appointed former Secretary General Kofi Annan as the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, but the Syrian government said it has not yet decided if he can enter the country.

The U.N. estimated that more than 7,500 people have been killed since the anti-Assad uprising started last March. Activists put the number at more than 8,000.


Associated Press writer Albert Aji contributed to this report from Damascus, Syria.