Photojournalist describes Syria siege that killed Colvin, details escape with Bouvier

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Photojournalist William Daniels was on assignment for Time magazine when he snuck into Homs and holed up in the "makeshift media center" in Syria with Edith Bouvier, Rémi Ochlik, Marie Colvin, Paul Conroy and others. Daniels describes the attack that killed Colvin and Ochlik:

Daniels took this cover photo during a brief truce. 8:22 in the morning on Feb. 22, the rockets fell, three of them hitting near the house with a fourth on the way. "You have to get out!" someone yelled, and two journalists ran toward the front door to grab their shoes, which had been left there in accordance with local tradition. Another, French photographer William Daniels, who was on assignment for TIME, threw himself against a wall, bracing for the impact of the approaching rocket. It exploded directly outside the building, rattling the walls, filling the room with dust and debris but leaving him unharmed.

His friends were not as lucky. "William, William! I can't move," came a cry from the rubble. It was Edith Bouvier, 31, a reporter for the French daily Le Figaro and one of the five foreign journalists who, along with Daniels, 35, had sneaked across the border from Lebanon into Syria over the previous two days. Bouvier was bleeding heavily, her left femur badly broken. He pulled her out, then headed toward the door to find help.

That was when the Frenchman saw his friends. The front of the house and its doorway had taken the full force of the explosion. Freelance photographer Rémi Ochlik, 28, lay at the entrance. Daniels tapped him gently on the head three times: "Rémi. Rémi. Rémi?" Nothing.

"Edith," Daniels gasped, "Rémi is not with us anymore."

On the ground near Ochlik was Marie Colvin, 56, an American correspondent for the Sunday Times of Britain, who had worn a black eye patch ever since she lost an eye in the civil war in Sri Lanka. She was legendary for being the first reporter into any war zone--and the last one out. This would be her final battle. The explosion had killed them both instantly.

Daniels also describes a series of attempts to escape with Bouvier, who was injured in the attack. This is the final part of their days-long journey:

At sunrise on Feb. 27, a Syrian activist laid out another escape plan for them: Disguise Bouvier in Islamic dress and try the most hazardous back route out of Bab Amr, one in which survival was far from sure. "He said, 'yesterday my friend was killed on that road.'" Daniels and Bouvier agreed to try nonetheless. Bundled into a car by combatants from the Free Syrian Army, they drove them through treacherous terrain held by government forces. "I cannot give the details but it was very, very dangerous," Daniels says. "We were very, very scared."

When they finally stopped at a safe house, they were overwhelmed by the smell of food cooking on the stove. They bathed and were given fresh clothes, Everyone wanted their photo taken with Bouvier, who'd gained fame in Syria because of the YouTube video. "She was like the icon of the revolution," Daniels laughs. It was the first good moment in five days." After two days, their FSA escorts told them it was safe to continue, and they slept the following night in a second safe house, before finally crossing into Lebanon along a smuggling track late on Thursday, having waited their final hours in Syria for a snowstorm to end. It had taken them four days to traverse just 25 miles.

Rick Stengel, the magazine's managing editor, explained the cover story:

We tell this story to not only document the atrocities occurring in Syria but also highlight the fact that journalists like Daniels, Bouvier, Ochlik and Colvin have been the primary means by which the world even knows what is going on there. Unlike the aborted Green Revolution in Iran or the Arab Spring in Egypt, Syria is far more isolated and repressed, and few people can film, tweet or e-mail evidence of what they are seeing and experiencing. That is one reason, as this story reveals, the Assad regime is deliberately targeting journalists.


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