- - Wednesday, January 11, 2012

DAMASCUS, SYRIA A French cameraman died in a grenade attack on an official media trip Wednesday as the Syrian president denounced a “conspiracy” against his regime and an Arab League official accused Syria of “war crimes” against its own people.

Gilles Jacquier, 43, was the first Western journalist killed in the 10-month-old uprising against Syrian leader Bashar Assad, whose forces are accused of the deaths of more than 5,000 anti-government protesters.

According to a reporter who was on the trip to the restive city of Homs, the group was hit by several grenades. As many as six Syrian civilians also were killed, activists said.

“At some point, three or four shells hit, very close to us,” said Jens Franssen, who was among 15 journalists on the tour of the city.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe called for a probe, saying, “We vigorously condemn this odious act.”

Several Syrian journalists have been killed or tortured as they have tried to cover the uprising, which has proved the most severe challenge to the Assad family’s 40-year dynasty.

In a rare public appearance, Mr. Assad told thousands of cheering supporters at a pro-regime rally in the capital, Damascus, Wednesday that the “conspiracy” against his country is in its final stage.

“I have faith in the future, and we will undoubtedly triumph over this conspiracy,” he said. “They are in the final stages of their conspiracy.”

On Tuesday in his first speech since June, he said he would strike back with an “iron hand” at those who threaten his regime.

In Washington on Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton described Mr. Assad’s speech as “chillingly clinical” and accused him of “making excuses [by] blaming foreign countries” for the uprising.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said soldiers and army defectors were fighting Wednesday in central Hama province. There was no immediate word on casualties.

The Arab League mission, sent to Syria in late December to determine whether Mr. Assad is abiding by a plan to end the violence, came under fresh scrutiny Wednesday. A former monitor said he quit the mission in disgust because the regime was committing “war crimes” against its own people.

“The mission was a farce, and the observers have been fooled,” Anwer Malek told Al-Jazeera television. “The regime orchestrated it and fabricated most of what we saw to stop the Arab League from taking action against the regime.

“They didn’t withdraw their tanks from the streets; they just hid them and redeployed them after we left,” he said.

There was no immediate comment from the Arab League, which identified Mr. Malek as a Tunisian working for the Paris-based Arab Committee for Human Rights.



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