French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe called on Syrian authorities to divulge “the whole truth” surrounding the death of France 2 TV reporter Gilles Jacquier who was killed by an apparent grenade attack as he covered a pro-Assad rally in the flashpoint city of Homs. Jacqueir’s death comes at a time when the Arab League observer mission appears to be collapsing, unable to stop the violence and protect protesters from the brutal crackdown that is now in its 10th month.
The reporter’s killing also raises the question of how to discover the “truth” of what is happening in Syria as both pro- and anti-government spokesmen give differing accounts of how the attack happened and who was responsible.
Also, the League’s carefully constructed anti-Syrian coalition appears to be on the ropes as several League members are now openly questioning the efficacy of sending unarmed observers into Syria to literally be led around by the nose by government minders. Opposition members and street activists have been bitterly disappointed by the behavior of the observers who seem paralyzed in the face of the violence. Several of the 165-member observer force have privately expressed their frustration and have talked of quitting in protest. They cite the handling of the mission by the League and the air-tight control Assad’s handlers have exercised over their movements, as well as who they can interview.
And in one of the most cynical speeches of his career, Bashar Assad addressed a multitude of regime supporters in Damascus and on Syrian TV saying, “Thanks to you, I have never felt weak, not even for a day. We will undoubtedly triumph over this conspiracy.” The speech indicated Assad’s increasing confidence that he can weather the storm of opposition to his rule and his belief that the international community will remain on the sidelines while he carries out his crackdown on protestors. Indeed, as “Amal Hanano” (the pseudonym of a Syrian-American writer) writing in Foreign Policy observes, “Syrians are on their own.”
It has been impossible to confirm the details of how Jacquier died. The state-run news agency announced that the journalist was killed covering a pro-Assad demonstration as he was documenting “the damages left by terrorists…with photos and interviewing citizens who were victims of terror in the city when [an] armed terrorist member fired mortar projectiles on the delegation.” This is in keeping with the government’s narrative that armed gangs and terrorists are responsible for the violence and are trying to overthrow the regime.
But the Syrian Revolution General Commission, an opposition force, disputed that account, claiming, “The journalists were attacked in a heavily militarized regime stronghold — it would be hugely difficult for any armed opposition to penetrate the area and launch such a deadly attack.” It says that the mortars were fired from an “infantry vehicle.”
But today, AP is reporting that a “barrage of grenades” were responsible for Jacquier’s death. The reporter was with a group of 15 other foreign journalists who had received permission to cover the rally. Only a limited number of outside reporters have been allowed into the country and each is assigned a handler to make sure they cover what the Syrian government wants them to see.
Herein lies the great dilemma of gleaning the truth of what is actually happening in Syria. With no independent news sources to weigh accounts and come to a reasonable conclusion regarding events on the ground, it is proving impossible to discover the “facts” as one would normally do regarding any other story. Both the government and major opposition groups have their own agendas, their own perspectives on events, and trying to sift through contradictory accounts and be reasonably sure that one has a handle on the story has become an exercise in futility.
If the truth is the first casualty of war, the second has to be clarity.
No such uncertainty clouds the view of the international community and opposition forces inside Syria when it comes to an assessment of the effectiveness of the Arab League observer mission that has been in country since December 26 of last year. There has been universal condemnation of the League’s timidity, and its failure to stand up to the Syrian government and demand the kind of access that would give an accurate picture of what was happening.
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