Assad's revenge: rescue mission gets British photographer out alive – but 13 Syrians are killed in process

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Confusion reigns as President Sarkozy claims wounded French reporter has been liberated from Homs as well, only to go back on his word later

There was deep concern last night over the whereabouts of three Western journalists who are believed to be trapped in the restive Syrian city of Homs after an overnight rescue attempt succeeded in extracting British photographer Paul Conroy, but which had also led to the death of at least 13 opposition activists who had volunteered for the operation.

It is understood that the mission to rescue Mr Conroy, whose leg was badly injured in a raid on the Baba Amr district of Homs last week that killed his Sunday Times colleague Marie Colvin and the photographer Remi Ochlik, also included a bid to rescue three other reporters. Edith Bouvier of France's Le Figaro, Javier Espinosa of the Spanish daily El Mundo, and William Daniels, a Paris-based American freelance on assignment with Le Figaro were all left behind however, when the operation came under heavy fire.

Ms Bouvier in particular is causing concern because of a severe leg injury. Hope had been raised about her safe release last night when French President Nicolas Sarkozy told reporters that she was also in Lebanon. "I am very happy for her and very happy that the nightmare is ending," Mr Sarkozy said.

But after two hours of utter confusion, the French ambassador in Beirut, Ms Bouvier's newspaper and the French foreign ministry said they could not confirm the President's claim. "It is rather bizarre but we are unable to confirm the president's statement," said a French foreign office spokesman. It was later retracted by an embarrassed Mr Sarkozy, who blamed poor communications with Homs. Le Figaro issued a statement last night saying that Ms Bouvier, "is not in Lebanon but still in Syria".

It was rumoured yesterday that Ms Bouvier and Mr Daniels had refused to leave with the activists, insisting on an embassy escort.

A source close to Paul Conroy said that the 47 year-old had described the current situation inside Baba Amr as "desperate" with supplies of food and water running out; activists said that another 10 smugglers, who were transporting medical supplies and food into Homs, were also killed in the bombardment of the city.

Mr Conroy's arrival in Lebanon was confirmed by both the Sunday Times and the Foreign Office. The British Ambassador to Lebanon, Tom Fletcher, said: "We have been looking after him since this morning. He is doing well." Kate Conroy, Mr Conroy's wife, said: "I have spoken to Paul this morning and he sounded in good spirits. The family are overjoyed and relieved that he is safe and look forward to getting him home."

Mr Conroy's rescue was co-ordinated by Avaaz, a campaigning group who have spent the past 10 months establishing a network of opposition activists. Alex Renton, a spokesman for the group in Beirut, described the tense operation in which Conroy was rescued.

From the day of the deadly attack that took the lives of Ms Colvin and Mr Ochlik and wounded the others, Syrian activists had volunteered to help smuggle the journalists out of the city. "They wanted to help their friends the journalists who had been helping them," he said.

Mr Renton said that a rescue operation had begun on Sunday evening following a particularly intense bombardment of the city but that, "it went horribly wrong very early on". The route from Homs to the Lebanese border is only 20 miles but involves travel by circuitous smuggling routes past Syrian government positions and border patrols. It took Mr Conroy 24 hours to reach the Lebanese border, sometimes having to hobble on his injured leg.

"Paul Conroy's rescue today is a huge relief but this must be tempered with the news that three remain unaccounted for and with our respects for the incredibly courageous activists who died during the evacuation attempts," said Ricken Patel, the executive director of Avaaz, who added that there were more than 50 activists involved in the operation.

Local journalists volunteering for the network have reported that Syrian security forces are currently mounting the "most savage and sustained assault since continuous shelling of the city began 23 days ago".

There were also reports last night that President Assad had sent his elite armoured division into Homs. Opposition activists said tanks and troops of the Fourth Division, commanded by Assad's brother Maher, moved overnight into main streets around the Baba Amr. The tanks had "Fourth Division Monsters" painted on them, they said.

Tens of thousands of people are now said to be at risk in Homs. As many as 125 people died in Syria on Monday, many of them in a single incident at a checkpoint in Homs, according to activists. Sixty-five more were killed yesterday, they said. Death tolls remain very hard to verify as media access across the country is tightly restricted.

There were also unconfirmed reports last night that France could be about to launch an operation to free the remaining reporters.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Sport
Kim Sears is reported to have directed abuse at Berdych
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee