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.

Sport
sportGareth Bale, Carl Froch and Kelly Gallagher also in the mix for award
News
Japan's Suntory Beverage & Food has bought GlaxoSmithKline's Lucozade and Ribena
news
News
A tongue-eating louse (not the one Mr Poli found)
newsParasitic louse appeared inside unfilleted sea bass
News
The illusionist believes hypnotism helped him to deal with the lack of control he felt growing up
people'It’s not that people react badly to it – they really don't care'
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
peopleJack Monroe accuses David Cameron of 'misty-eyed rhetoric'
News
Tana Ramsay gave evidence in a legal action in which her husband, Gordon, is accusing her father, Christopher Hutcheson, of using a ghost writer machine to “forge” his signature
peopleTana Ramsay said alleged discovery was 'extremely distressing'
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Windsor and Aljaz Skorjanec rehearse their same-sex dance together on Strictly Come Dancing
TV
Money
Anyone over the age of 40 seeking a loan with a standard term of 25 years will be borrowing beyond a normal retirement age of 65, and is liable to find their options restricted
propertyAnd it's even worse if you're 40
Arts and Entertainment
Perhaps longest awaited is the adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road with Brazil’s Walter Salles directing and Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart and Viggo Mortensen as the Beat-era outsiders
books
Arts and Entertainment
theatreSinger to join cast of his Broadway show after The Last Ship flounders at the box office
Life and Style
fashion'To start singing with Pharrell is not that bad, no?'
News
news
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

Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor

£30000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent: Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor - Ke...

Argyll Scott International: Risk Assurance Manager

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Hi All, I'm currently recruiting for t...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Ashdown Group: IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

£23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible