January 25, 2012
Posted: 1720 GMT
During the best of times, reporting from Syria is a challenge. Today, reporting from Syria means risking your life. Even on government sanctioned trips, journalists are now facing the possibility of death. Syria may not be a warzone yet, but it’s turning into one quickly.
The UN believes more than 5,000 people have been killed since protests against President Assad began 10 months ago. On Wednesday January 11, French television journalist Gilles Jacquier was killed in an apparent mortar attack while covering pro-government demonstrations in Homs, the city at the epicenter of the anti-Assad movement. Jacquier was invited into Syria. He was there officially. He died in Syria doing his job.
This is a worrying development in Syria. What started with a small demonstration in the southern city of Daraa, when parents of children detained and tortured by authorities for writing anti-regime graffiti protested in the streets, has now turned into a complex and multi-layered nationwide crisis.
There are anti-regime protesters who remain unarmed. But there are also army defectors who've formed the "Free Syrian Army", and who are vowing to defeat the oppressive regime by force. Meanwhile, the country's president, Bashar al-Assad, continues to blame outside instigators for the unrest. He promises to defeat "terrorists" with an "iron fist", while promising reforms critics say are toothless and cosmetic.
Each Arab Spring uprising has followed its own distinct scenario. In Tunisia, the authoritarian rule of the president has been replaced by what looks like a functioning political process. In Egypt, the army is still in charge, and many say the head of the dictatorship was eliminated, but the regime remains – imprisoning critics and cracking down on street protests.
As for Syria, a minority regime is fighting for its survival. It won't go down without a fight. A change of regime in Syria means the minority Alawite clan ruling the country for over 40 years will be stripped of its powers and privileges. What replaces it, no one dares to predict. Not even the most seasoned Arab world observers predicted Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain. Libya. In 2012, in this time of change, anything can happen.
When I reported from Syria last July, the government prevented us from traveling to the hotspot city of Homs because, they argued, they couldn’t keep us safe from “terrorists” and “armed gangs”. No doubt the regime will blame the attack that killed Gilles Jacquier on them. It has been the Assad government’s narrative from the beginning. Many are more than a little skeptical.
For other journalists, trying to get the story means entering Syria in secret – and trusting rebel contacts enough to be led through the darkness and into cities under siege. Away from the prying eyes of government minders, they risk imprisonment, torture, even death to cover the rebels.
That is exactly what one freelance journalist has done. He got into Homs with the help of a rebel network and captured some of the most dramatic images of the uprising so far. We've aired his exclusive material on CNN over the last few weeks.
One part of Homs, Baba Amr, is now virtually under the control of the Free Syrian Army. The journalist, whom we are not naming for his own safety, spent several days capturing their fight and the struggle of ordinary Homsis in the neighborhood. An island of rebel control in a city under siege. The kind of story the regime and its supporters don’t want you to see. Those who risk their lives to bring us the truth deserve our respect and admiration.
Homs has become a microcosm of what Syria one day might look like: certain areas will become battlegrounds between armed defectors and regular troops, others will be gripped by fear and concern for the future; some will continue to support the regime for sectarian reasons or because they dread the uncertainty of what might replace Bashar al-Assad.
I've been traveling to Syria my whole life. It was one of the most beautiful and colorful countries in the world. To see it like this, as it struggles towards what lies ahead, is sometimes difficult. But the Arab world as a whole is changing after years of paralysis. Nothing will ever be the same again.
Hala Gorani is an anchor and reporter for CNN International's iDesk
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