French journalist, several others killed in Syria

/ Source: news services

A French journalist was among several people killed in Syria's central city of Homs on Wednesday, becoming the first Western reporter to have died in 10 months of unrest in the country.

Gilles Jacquier, of France 2 TV, was on a rare Western reporting trip authorized by Syria's embattled government amid a 10-month uprising against the regime of President Bashar Assad. Another France-2 reporter was uninjured.

News director Thierry Thullier of France Televisions, the parent station of France-2, told French TV BFM that Jacquier appeared to have been killed by a mortar or rocket as part of a series of attacks.

A report on Addounia TV said eight people were killed and at least 25 people wounded, but the circumstances were unclear.

'Odious act'
A witness in Homs, who asked not to be named, said the casualties were caused by rocket-propelled grenades fired during a pro-Assad rally. The witness said he had seen three bodies.

It was the first known instance of a Western journalist dying in Syria amid the unrest. Syrian authorities have denied many efforts by Western journalists to enter the country since the uprising began.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in a statement that Jacquier, who had previously reported from Iraq and Afghanistan, had been killed "in an attack" in Homs.

He called it an "odious act" and demanding an investigation into the killing.

"It's up to Syrian authorities to ensure the security of international journalists on their territory, and to protect this fundamental liberty which is the freedom of information."

"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.

In a live blog about events in Syria Wednesday, The Guardian newspaper posted a video in French about Jacquier, which was taken in 2009 when he won an award for a piece on girls attending school in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The chief judge described his report as "un reportage de verite" or "a work of truth."

The U.N. estimates more than 5,000 people have been killed in the uprising.

Earlier, Assad joined thousands of his supporters Wednesday in an extremely rare public appearance, telling a pro-regime rally in the capital that the "conspiracy" against his country will fail.

Assad, who inherited power from his father in 2000, has blamed the revolt on foreign-backed terrorists and conspirators. On Tuesday, he gave his first speech since June and said he would strike back at those who threaten his regime with an "iron hand."

On Tuesday, Arab League monitor said he had resigned because the mission was powerless to prevent what he said were the "scenes of horror" he had seen in the Homs.

"The mission was a farce and the observers have been fooled," the Algerian told Al Jazeera English television. "The regime orchestrated it and fabricated most of what we saw to stop the Arab League from taking action against the regime...

"The regime isn't committing one war crime but a series of crimes against its people," he added.

Malek's resignation was the latest blow to a mission already criticized for inefficiency and whose members have come under attack this week from both Assad supporters and protesters.

Syria has barred most independent media, making it difficult to verify conflicting accounts of events on the ground.

There was no immediate comment on Malek's remarks from the Arab League, which decided on Sunday to keep monitors in place at least until they report again on their mission on Jan. 19

Opposition groups have been deeply critical of the Arab League mission, saying it is giving Assad cover for his ongoing crackdown. The observer mission's Sudanese chief has raised particular concern because he served in key security positions under Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted for crimes against humanity in Darfur.