06/24/12 #Syria Diary of the Hawks battalion
Jihad Makdissi, the spokesman for the Syrian foreign ministry, speaks fluent English with a slight Cockney accent. He is the smooth face of the regime, those that have no blood on their hands and a very expensive Philippe Patek watch.
We have a long discussion. Gilles Jacquier of France 2 wants to go south to Derra. But eventually we decide: tomorrow we drive to Homs.
This a divided city. On one side, only empty streets. On the other, under the control of the Shaheeba, the government militias, you still see women and children.
We keep to areas held by the regime. We’re three vans with 15 journalists, including two camera crews, escorted by more than 10 local security people and local inhabitants in tow.
Suddenly pro-regime people with banners block the road and the camera crews and photographers do their job - until, out of nowhere, there is a shell burst. We run to the spot where the shell struck. Young local people run with us, urging us on to see what the rebels are doing.
Our regime security escort doesn’t move an inch. They do not come with us.
I run with Kris, my sound man, into the apartment building where there is a plume of smoke. I follow Rudi and our cameraman up, right to the roof.
We hear a second shell hitting. The young people with us are hysterical. Did we see that? Very soon, a third hit. I feel instinctively that I am too exposed.
I run into the narrow staircase. Another hit, a fourth. Broken glass, dust, chaos. This is not good. Seconds seem like minutes. There are hysterical cries and screams.
I dive into an open apartment and find Rudi, Kris and the rest. A Dutch colleague is kneeling, gasping and holding a cloth to his eye. In his other eye, I see disbelief. Kris asks if I am OK. My jeans are covered in blood. I don’t feel hurt, but I check anyway. I’m OK.
Now it’s back down the staircase, glass splinters everywhere. The floor is bright red with blood.
Gilles is on the floor under the stairs - dead. I hardly recognise him. His girlfriend Caroline is next to him, she has seen everything happen. I see her mouth open and her eyes wide, and I realise it is she who is screaming. Colleagues are trying to pull her away, to get her out.
A fifth shell bursts. There are bodies in the street, and people jump into passing cars. Rudi and I dive in together. In the next car someone puts Gilles’ body. Damn. Today is not a good day.
After reviewing the raw TV images and our recordings, questions remain. Was it coincidence that the attack came the exact day and hour that a group of foreign journalists was in Homs?
Why did people come to demonstrate around us, just before the first impact? Why was our security escort so passive?
The regime said the incident “proved” that terrorist groups are at work in Homs. Who will contest that version? None of our images give a conclusive answer. I don’t want to believe we were part of a cynical set-up. Syrians need independent journalists who go and see for themselves now, more than ever. Gilles Jacquier would have agreed with that.