Wounded UK photographer escapes Syria
Damascus - British photographer Paul Conroy, who was wounded in an army bombardment in the Syrian rebel city of Homs last week, has been smuggled to Lebanon, his father Les said on Tuesday.
"We've just had word from Beirut," Les Conroy told British media.
Conroy's dramatic escape across the border came as the rebel-held Baba Amr district of Homs, where he had been holed up with wounded French reporter Edith Bouvier, was shelled by regime forces for a 25th straight day on Tuesday, according to activists on the ground.
The freelance photographer was working for Britain's Sunday Times newspaper during the attack on February 22 which claimed the lives of his colleague, veteran reporter Marie Colvin, and French photographer Remi Ochlik.
Conroy, aged 47, issued a video appeal for help last week, saying he was injured and being looked after by the Free Syrian Army.
The British Foreign Office had no immediate confirmation of Conroy's escape from Homs, but it has previously said it was working to help the father-of-three reach safety, and to repatriate Colvin's body.
Bouvier still in Homs
The French embassy in Beirut denied reports that Bouvier too had managed to cross the border into Lebanon.
"Edith Bouvier is still in Homs, unfortunately, and efforts [to evacuate her] are continuing," the embassy said.
Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch who is involved in the rescue efforts, also denied the reports.
"Reports that Edith Bouvier has made it out of Homs and is in Lebanon are FALSE," he tweeted.
Attempts by the Red Crescent and Red Cross to reach the pair on Monday failed, according to the head of the Arab-Syrian Red Crescent, Abdel Rahman Attar.
"Our team, composed of some 20 volunteers, extremely courageous with four ambulances and a hearse, entered Baba Amr and remained there for nearly three hours while representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC] waited outside," he said.
He said his team was told by an intermediary in Baba Amr that Bouvier refused to leave if the conditions she insisted on were not met.
Activists of the Syrian Revolution 2011 Facebook page said that Baba Amr was "bombarded for the 25th straight day by regime forces" on Tuesday.
"The shells are falling and the world watches," said an activist in a video showing columns of black smoke rising from bombed buildings.
Violence also raged in other parts of Syria on Tuesday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which reported five Syrian soldiers killed in fighting against deserters in the restive southern province of Daraa.
The Britain-based monitoring group had reported more than 100 people killed on Monday across Syria, including 11 members of the security forces, and 68 civilians in what it called a "massacre" in Homs province.
Western powers said the regime's crackdown in Homs and other hubs of protest called into question the veracity of a referendum held at the weekend, which Damascus said resulted in almost 90% of voters approving a new constitution.
The charter brought in by President Bashar Assad after 11 months of anti-regime protests won 89.4% of votes cast in Sunday's referendum, with a turnout of 57.4%, Interior Minister Mohammed al-Shaar announced.
In Washington, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland asked how a democratic process such as Sunday's referendum could take place in the country while Syrian government guns and tanks were still firing.
"We dismiss it as absolutely cynical," Nuland told reporters.
"Even the referendum that they put forward is ridiculous in the sense that it requires that the state approve any of these patriotic opposition groups," Nuland said.
The draft text of the constitution that was overwhelmingly approved by voters ends the legal basis for the five-decade stranglehold on power of Assad's ruling Baath party but still leaves huge powers in his hands.
The Syrian opposition says the changes are cosmetic after nearly a year of repression by Assad's security forces that human rights groups say has left more than 7 600 people dead.
The embattled Syrian regime was meanwhile on Tuesday facing an urgent call by the UN Human Rights Council to immediately end human rights abuses and to allow "free and unfettered access" to UN and humanitarian agencies to conflict areas.
The request for an urgent debate and resolution was filed by Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, according to a draft document sent to the media.
On Monday, the European Union imposed fresh sanctions on Damascus and while Moscow hit back at US criticism for standing by Assad and frustrating international effort to end the regime's clampdown.
EU foreign ministers agreed to freeze assets of Syria's central bank, impose a travel ban on seven Syrians close to Assad, ban cargo flights into the 27-nation bloc and restrict trade with Damascus in gold and precious metals.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin slammed the West's "cynical" stance on Syria, staunchly defending Moscow's joint veto with China of two UN Security Council draft resolutions condemning Damascus.
He accused the West of "lacking the patience to work out an adjusted and balanced" resolution that also required opposition forces to cease fire and withdraw from flashpoints such as Homs.
"A refusal to do so was cynical," he said.