Sky News journalists claim to have been “deliberately targeted” by Syrian regime forces while reporting on the battle for the final rebel outpost, despite being “clearly identified” as press.
Special correspondent Alex Crawford said in a report published last night that she and her crew were “tracked, targeted and fired upon by regime forces” while on the ground in Idlib province.
Video footage taken by Sky News shows Crawford and her team come under fire as a shell bursts near their position, sending up a large cloud of dust. The group then scramble to find their car.
Crawford said in her report: “The Sky News crew – clearly identified as journalists – was deliberately targeted and attacked by Syrian regime forces using military drones to pinpoint our location, before launching a series of strikes.
“We were with two civilian political activists when our small group of five was tracked, targeted and fired upon by regime forces helped by Russian airpower as they bombarded Al Habit town in the countryside of Idlib.”
US political activist Bilal Abdul Kareem, who was with Crawford, was injured by shrapnel in the attack and later taken to hospital, although his wound was not said to have been too serious.
Crawford is reporting on the final push by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s forces and Russian military to defeat rebel factions in Syria. It follows the defeat of Islamic extremist group ISIS in March.
Crawford said her team was in an area deserted by civilians when they were spotted by a military drone and then “repeatedly shot” at with what they believed to have been shells fired from a Russian tank.
“As we retreated to leave the area, the targeting of us continued,” said Crawford. “One of the Sky crew had press markings on his flak jacket. The other was carrying a clearly marked green medical trauma pack.”
The targeting of journalists is in violation of international standards for warfare.
National Union of Journalists general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said the attack was “outrageous”, adding that it was “clearly intended to send a stark message to other journalists, and we must be united in our condemnation of such actions”.
International Federation of Journalists general secretary Anthony Bellanger said he was “appalled by this deliberate targeting of our colleagues from Sky News”. He added: “The Syrian president should be providing the media with the necessary safety to carry out their duties, not treat them as terrorists to be attacked.”
Describing the attack in her report, Crawford said: “We had just been filming a burning armoured vehicle in an area where there had clearly been fresh fighting when a bullet came in, hitting the metal on the vehicle.
“We had suddenly become the new targets.
“We all withdrew and ran for cover, trying to pick our way back through the broken and busted buildings all around us. The military drone hovered above us and we could hear the sound of an aircraft homing in.
“As we hid in a partial doorway to try to avoid running straight down an open road exposing ourselves, the first shell came in. It was so close and so loud, all we could hear for a few seconds was a deafening ringing.
“There was a huge cloud of smoke which meant we were bathed in a dusty whiteout, unable to see for what seemed like several long lingering seconds.”
Crawford added: “Even as we were running away from the scene, another shell came in behind us.
“We jumped in the car and skidded down the road, picking up a puncture as we crashed through the shrapnel all over the place.”
She said: “We were lucky and we can escape Syria. There are more than 3m civilians inside Idlib right now who can’t.”
Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik were both killed in Syria in 2012 in a rocket attack targeting a makeshift media centre. A US court has ruled Al-Assad’s regime liable for Colvin’s death.
Picture: Sky News