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Syria forms committee to probe killing of French journalist in Homs

(Xinhua)

09:57, January 13, 2012

DAMASCUS, Jan. 12 (Xinhua) -- The governor of central Syrian city of Homs Ghassan Abdul al-Al issued a decision Thursday to form a committee to investigate the circumstances of the attack that occurred a day earlier and claimed the live of French journalist Gilles Jacquier, the state-run SANA news agency reported.

The committee consists of a judge, two weapons experts, and a representative of the France 2 TV channel, according to SANA.

Jacquier, the correspondent of France 2 TV, was among other nine people, who were killed Wednesday when identified gunmen fired mortars on a crowd of people, who were giving testimonies to foreign journalists that were inspecting in the Ekrima neighborhood in the city of Homs, a hotspot in the months-old Syrian crisis.

Abul-Al called the attack "an appalling crime that targeted civilians and journalists." But he also told Xinhua that the group of foreign journalists went independently to Homs and requested to be alone and move freely without protection from the government.

The Syrian Information Ministry expressed on late Wednesday its deep grief and regret over the deadly attack. It condemned the incident, saying that the attack came in the context of the terrorist attempts to cover the true picture of what is happening in Syria, according to SANA.

In Paris, French Foreign Minster Alain Juppe immediately condemned in strong words the killing of Jacquier, who is the first Western journalist that was killed in Syria since the unrest began in March last year.

"We vigorously condemned this odious act," Juppe said in a statement, adding that "we demand an investigation so that the circumstances of this tragedy be clarified."

Juppe urged the Syrian authorities to conduct its duty to protect foreign journalists in the country, and noted that the French ambassador in Damascus would arrive at the scene immediately.

Also, the foreign policy chief of the European Union (EU) Catherine Ashton on Wednesday strongly condemned the attack and expressed her condolences in a statement to the family of Jacquier, and the families of all the victims in the Homs attack.

"The Syrian authorities have a responsibility to guarantee the safety of journalists in their country," Ashton said, "The press must be allowed to carry out its vital role of providing independent information on events in Syria without fear of violence or repression."

Ashton called for an immediate end to violence in Syria, and expressed her concerns on the recent escalation of violence in the country. She also called for a rapid investigation to clarify the circumstances leading to Wednesday's tragedy.

Homs, Syria's third largest city and home to about 800,000 people, has witnessed fierce clashes between troops loyal to Syria 's President Bashar al-Assad and militia groups, allegedly comprising of Syrian army defectors.

The daily grind of violence stocked fears that Homs, one of Syria's most volatile areas, has slid toward a civil war.

The government says that the turmoil in Syria is plotted by terrorists and foreign-backed armed gangs.

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