Before the US Secretary of State spoke about the Syrian opposition in a positive manner late Thursday, to the extent that it appeared that the US would officially recognize them, CNN – over a period of three hours – broadcast a video plea issued by a French journalist trapped in Homs. One might ask: what has one thing got to do with the other?
The relation between the two is clear, for the story of the French journalist added a human dimension for the West with regards to what is happening in Syria. The West was shocked at the news of the deaths of its citizens, unlike some Arab states that fail to pay attention even to the deaths of seven thousand Syrians. In the video plea made by French journalist Edith Bouvier; she appears resting on a bed as she relates how she was injured in the shelling of Homs, saying “I have a broken leg…I need to undergo surgery as soon as possible.” She adds “the doctors here have treated us as well as they could but they can’t perform surgery. So I would like a ceasefire to be put in place as soon as possible and an ambulance or car in good enough shape that can drive us to Lebanon.” The French journalist was not the only one to issue such a plea; there was also a video plea by a photographer [Paul Conroy] working for the British Sunday Times newspaper, which means that this story is present in the British press as well.
CNN returned to this story at the top of every news round-up over a three-hour period, and of course the American news network was right to do so, for those who work in television recognize that this is a dramatic human interest story. The victim is a woman and a journalist who was searching for the truth, whilst her appearance in this video is affecting, particularly for the West. Since this journalist is French, this story will undoubtedly concern European and American viewers. It is sufficient here to recall that French president Sarkozy, who just two days prior to the deaths of the American and French journalists [in Homs] was asking questions about the nature of the Syrian opposition, came out on Thursday to say that the deaths of these journalists as a result of the shelling of the city of Homs represented an “assassination”, in a clear accusation leveled at the regime of the tyrant of Damascus.
Therefore, those observing the situation cannot be surprised that Secretary of State Clinton, on the same day, said “the consensus opinion by the Arab League and all the others who are working and planning this [Friends of Syria] conference is that the Syrian National Council [SNC] is a credible representative and therefore they will be present.” She added “we are seeing increasing defections; we are seeing a lot of pressure on the inner regime. There is growing evidence that some of the officials in the Syrian government are beginning to hedge their bets, moving assets, moving family members, looking for a possible exit strategy.” It is true that there was Arab pressure for the US to take a decisive position supporting the Syrian opposition in a serious manner, but the deaths of the two journalists, and the appearance of the French journalist in this video plea, has created a new reality that is now affecting western decision-makers. The story of the French journalist who has appealed to be rescued from Homs has been particularly influential, and this plea will have consequences for the future, for it has caught al-Assad in a trap that he will not be able to extricate himself from, and it may accelerate the west’s actions against him and the crimes he has committed against the Syrian people.
The writer is the Editor-in-Chief of Asharq al-Awsat. The article was published in the London-based newspaper on Feb. 25, 2012