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Syria journalists caught in middle of conflict

In Syria's war, 'the definition of who is considered the enemy is getting broader,' one analyst says, increasingly putting journalists in the cross hairs.

January 05, 2013|By Ned Parker, Los Angeles Times
  • The family of American journalist James Foley, 39, said last week that he was still missing after having been taken by gunmen Nov. 22 in the northern province of Idlib. The Committee to Protect Journalists called Syria the deadliest country in 2012 with 28 journalists killed or targeted for assassination by the government or rebels.
The family of American journalist James Foley, 39, said last week that he… (Nicole Tung, Associated…)

BEIRUT — Sandra Alloush says she loved her work as an announcer for an official Syrian television news channel, and saw it as a way to help her country. But to the armed opposition she was a traitor.

One friend was kidnapped; five reporter friends were killed. In November, a car tried to force the vehicle she and her future husband were in off the road. She quit the next day, and has since left Syria for another Arab country.

"If you want freedom and say the regime is non-democratic and dictatorial, dudes, you are doing way worse by killing a journalist who is just doing his job," she said in an interview Saturday.

Syrian journalists, whether with the opposition or government, are caught in the middle in a conflict that is nearly 2 years old and getting more violent by the day. The United Nations estimates that at least 60,000 people have died.

The Syrian state news agency said Saturday that President Bashar Assad would make a rare address to the country Sunday, his first since he addressed the parliament in June. It provided few details, but a pro-Syrian government newspaper in Lebanon said he would offer a solution to the conflict.

There was word of another casualty among journalists Saturday. Suheil Ali of private, pro-government Addounia television died, four days after the government said gunmen opened fire on him on his way home from work. Others said he was wounded covering fighting in the northern city of Aleppo.

"The fighting is getting uglier and uglier, and the definition of who is considered the enemy is getting broader," said Nadim Houry, deputy director for Human Rights Watch in the Middle East. "It is increasingly affecting journalists. It applies not just to opposition but pro-government outlets, or outlets that are perceived as pro-government."

The Committee to Protect Journalists called Syria the deadliest country in 2012 with 28 journalists killed or targeted for assassination.

The government and rebels both regard the media as propaganda tools for courting domestic and world opinion, creating a minefield of bias, exaggeration and misinformation for journalists.

Alloush, 25, started working at the state television channel in April, and hosted a show called "One Hour and Twenty Minutes." Then in June, rebels attacked the Syrian state television building. Seven people were killed in the attack, her colleagues among them. Alloush was drafted to be a lead announcer.

Even now, she believes she did her best to try to make Syria's warring groups understand each other.

"I tried to make the peace between the sides on my show. I talked about political prisoners on my show, the refugees, the internally displaced and the mistakes by the government," Alloush said. "I felt my country was in danger. Syria was going into civil war and it was time for us to wake up."

On the day last month that she and Tareq, 28, were married in Damascus, five bombs exploded. "I feel it's special, like I can brag about it to my kids someday," she said. "We got married in a war zone."

The couple wants to go to the West, but for now they are waiting, and getting threats on Facebook saying that armed rebels know where they are. She agreed to be interviewed on condition that her location not be revealed.

The Lebanese daily Al Akhbar, which is seen as pro-Syrian, said Assad's speech would offer a way to end the civil war based on a plan promoted by Lakhdar Brahimi, an envoy representing the United Nations and Arab League.

Brahimi has been pushing for a negotiated settlement in which a transitional government, involving both the opposition and Assad loyalists, would serve until new elections were held.

The newspaper said Assad's proposal would include a cease-fire, international observers, an assembly to draft a new constitution and a transitional government. It would not preclude him from running for another term in office, which the opposition and its international backers are unlikely to accept.

Special correspondent Alaa Hassan contributed to this report.

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