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Middle East

Marie Colvin's body arrives in Damascus


Arrangements are being made for the repatriation of a newspaper journalist killed in Syria after her body arrived in Damascus.

Acclaimed war reporter Marie Colvin, who is American-born and wrote for The Sunday Times, and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed in a rocket attack in the besieged Baba Amr area of the city of Homs last week.

Ms Colvin's body arrived in the country's capital last night after being handed over by the Syrian authorities.

Their deaths fuelled renewed calls for urgent international action to avert a humanitarian disaster in Syria where more than 7,500 civilians have died at the hands of brutal leader president Bashar Assad.

Photographer Paul Conroy, who was injured alongside American-born Ms Colvin, told reporters that working with her had been an "absolute privilege".

Speaking from his hospital bed in London, Mr Conroy said: "Marie was a unique person. To work with her was just an absolute privilege.

"She was tenacious - one of the bravest people I know and to be quite honest, we never get the choice of how we die, but Marie died doing something she was completely passionate about."

Mr Conroy said he feared for what would happen in Syria with no cameras or journalists there to report.

He said: "It's an attempt to massacre. It's horrifying to think that this is the part we're seeing.

"Once the cameras are gone, as they are now, God knows what's happening. Any talking now is too late."

Mr Conroy said that despite reports that many people have fled Homs, there are still thousands of people there, living in "bombed out wrecks" and "waiting to die".

When asked what he thought the people of Homs and Syria would want him to say on their behalf, Mr Conroy added: "I would say 'somebody please forget the geo-politics, forget the meetings, forget all of that, do something', because as I'm talking to you now they're dying.

"They would say please send help. They need help. This is beyond meetings."

Prime Minister David Cameron vowed that Syrians involved in "butchering" their own people would face a "day of reckoning", adding that supporters of president Assad's "criminal regime" have blood on their hands.

Speaking at an EU summit in Brussels at which Syria was high on the agenda, Mr Cameron described the situation in Homs as "a scene of medieval barbarity".

The Prime Minister urged China and Russia to end their support for the Syrian government, calling on them to "look hard at the suffering" in the city, where rebels have faced a bloody crackdown from Assad's forces.

"The Assad regime is butchering its own people. The history of Homs is being written in the blood of its citizens," said Mr Cameron.

"We will make sure, as we did in Serbia, that there is a day of reckoning for those responsible.

"So I have a clear message for those in authority in Syria: make a choice, turn your back on this criminal regime or face justice for the blood that is on your hands."

Russia and China, which vetoed an Arab-backed peace plan last month, are continuing to resist pressure to join global condemnation of human rights violations by the Assad regime.

However, they have backed a UN statement criticising the regime's refusal to allow UN humanitarian chief Baroness Amos access to Syria to inspect the aftermath of 11 months of violent repression.

"I say to the Russians and the Chinese: look hard at the suffering of Syria and think again about supporting this criminal regime," said Mr Cameron.

Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin denied that Moscow had any special relationship with Damascus and said the Syrians must choose who governs them.

"When Bashar al-Assad came to power he visited London and other European capitals first," he told The Times. "We don't have a special relationship with Syria.

"It is up to the Syrians to decide who should run their country. We need to make sure they stop killing each other."

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was "unacceptable" that an aid convoy it has sent to Homs is being denied access to the Baba Amr district, which has borne the brunt of the 26-day siege.

The UN estimates that more than 7,500 civilians have been killed so far in the crackdown. Its top human rights body voted to condemn Syria for "widespread and systematic violations" though without Russian or Chinese support.

UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon said yesterday: "The images which we have seen in Syria are atrocious.

"It's totally unacceptable, intolerable. How, as a human being can you bear this situation?"

He added: "The Syrian authorities must open, without any preconditions, to humanitarian communities."

In a statement issued through the Syrian Embassy in London, Assad's Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed "sadness and sorrow at the tragedy that befell the American journalist Marie Colvin".

A spokeswoman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said: "We have been in touch with the Sunday Times and they are making arrangements for the repatriation of Marie Colvin's body on behalf of her family."

The US embassy in Damascus has closed and it is understood that their interests are being represented by Poles in Syria.