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Spanish journalist tells of life inside besieged Baba Amr, escape

By the CNN Wire Staff
March 2, 2012 -- Updated 1114 GMT (1914 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Javier Espinosa was one of four journalists trapped in Baba Amr
  • Espinosa, who works for Spanish daily El Mundo, escaped this week
  • Espinosa says Syrian report he is dead would be a nice joke, if not for the suffering

(CNN) -- Spanish photographer Javier Espinosa painted a harrowing picture of life inside the shattered center of Syrian resistance in Homs in the days before a full-scale assault by President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

Espinosa, who works for the Spanish daily El Mundo, was one of four journalists who escaped this week from Baba Amr, a neighborhood of about five square miles that was shelled for 26 consecutive days before Syrian forces began an assault.

"It's an enormous tragedy," Espinosa told Anderson Cooper during an interview that aired Thursday on CNN's "AC360."

"And the latest news I have is that it is almost finished because they don't have any more ways of resisting the advance of the army."

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Espinosa escaped Baba Amr on Sunday just days before Syrian forces began an assault on the neighborhood that culminated Thursday with rebels announcing a "tactical retreat," saying they were withdrawing to protect the civilians in the neighborhood.

The announcement by the opposition came at the same time Syrian forces seized control of the neighborhood.

Apparently, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency did not get the message that Espinosa had escaped.

Citing a source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, it reported Thursday that authorities had discovered the body of Espinosa along with those of Colvin and Ochlik after the Syrian Army "cleansed Baba Amr from the foreign-backed armed groups of terrorists."

After DNA analysis confirms the identities, the bodies will be handed over to the embassies of Poland, on behalf of the U.S. Embassy, France and Spain, it said.

In an interview from Beirut, Espinosa said that the report of his death "would be a nice joke" if not for the suffering of the people of Baba Amr.

Espinosa described a dire humanitarian crisis in Homs, with dwindling food, water and medical supplies. In Baba Amr, the situation was worse.

"They had nothing. They didn't receive (anything) at all," he said.

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Espinosa was in the makeshift media center during last week's shelling by Syrian forces that killed American Marie Colvin of The Sunday Times of London and French photographer Remi Ochlik and wounded French reporter Edith Bouvier of La Monde newspaper.

When rockets began striking the media center, Espinosa and the other journalists were told by an opposition activist to get out of the building that was taking direct hits.

But when the activist "heard the sound of an incoming shell," he tried to turn the journalists back, Espinosa said.

Espinosa said he was able to take cover by a wall.

"But Marie and Remi were already outside, and they received the full explosion of the rocket," he said.

Espinosa described the shelling by Syrian forces as "systematic."

He described a typical day in the neighborhood as one of routine horror: Shelling began at 6 a.m. and continued until 1 p.m., when the army stopped for precisely one hour. "They just stop for lunch," he told CNN. At 2 p.m., the shelling resumed until 6 p.m., when it ended until picking up again the following morning, he said.

Espinosa escaped to Lebanon with British journalist Paul Conroy, who was also wounded in the shelling attack.

Espinosa and Conroy fled Baba Amr along with Bouvier and French photographer William Daniels.

But Bouvier and Daniels were forced to turn back after they were targeted by Syrian security forces, according to the opposition group Avaaz, who says its activists helped guide the four out of Syria.

A second evacuation attempt on Tuesday moved Daniels and Bouvier to a safer neighborhood in Homs, and then on Wednesday the opposition activists got the two out along with a number of civilians.

The French Embassy in Beirut said Bouvier was in stable condition on Friday and expected to be flown to France later in the day.

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