Rebel network fights to keep news flowing from front line


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The Independent Online

Smuggled satellite equipment, cameras poked through holes blasted in buildings by artillery fire and Skype conversations from laptops charged by petrol-powered generators: this is how Syrian activists are spreading the word about the bloody assault on Homs.

While ordinary Syrians in restive regions face food shortages and dwindling medical supplies, media access is also increasingly restricted inside the embattled country. Much of the latest information comes from activists who upload footage to YouTube, speak with reporters on Skype and update twitter feeds.

Syrian State TV showed images from the neighbourhood of Baba Amr for the first time yesterday, an d used the broadcast to blame the rebels for the destruction wrought by the 26-day seige.

Volunteers such as Omar Shakir (not his real name) operate a media centre in Baba Amr. He spoke to The Independent from a hospital in the Lebanese city of Tripoli, having escaped from Homs six days ago. The 20-year-old former medical student described a team of 20 volunteers who operate under pseudonyms, co-ordinating with reporters and hosting the few foreign journalists who make the journey to the city.

These activists are aided by international organisations such Avaaz, an online campaigning group that started operating in Syria shortly after the uprising began and international journalists were expelled from the country.

"We established a network and sent in satellite equipment," explained an Avaaz spokesman, Will Davies. The network has allowed those on the ground to transmit information more effectively but they are increasingly under threat as communication devices can be monitored.

But even once information has been sent, the location and date of footage need to be verified. "It's been months of building relationships," said Fadah Jassem, as a producer at ITN in London who has been covering the uprising.

In recent days, almost all communication with Baba Amr has been severed. The area has long since had his electricity cut and the stockpile of fuel that powers the generators that in turn power their equipment is running out.

Omar Shakir's network is increasingly scattered. But they are willing to take these risks to record the destruction taking place in their midst. "If there is no more internet, there is no more Baba Amr," said Mr Shakir.