On Eve of Risking Life, Her Usual Devotion

By Macfarquhar, Neil | International Herald Tribune, February 23, 2012 | Go to article overview

On Eve of Risking Life, Her Usual Devotion


Macfarquhar, Neil, International Herald Tribune


Neil MacFarquhar, a Times reporter, remembers Marie Colvin after having dinner with her in Beirut on the night before she slipped into Syria.

A New York Times colleague remembers Marie Colvin.

Marie Colvin recognized the significant story unfolding in the rebellious Syrian city of Homs. The problem was how to get at it.

She had been hoping for an official visa to visit Damascus, but with none forthcoming she decided to sneak over the border despite strong misgivings about her safety in the city suffering a constant battering from government tanks and heavy artillery.

"I cannot remember any story where the security situation was potentially this bad, except maybe Chechnya," Ms. Colvin told me over a dinner of traditional Lebanese food on her last night in Beirut, a week before she was killed in Homs.

In her first dispatch from that besieged city, printed in the latest Sunday Times of London, she detailed the dangers in merely reaching her destination, which lies just across the Lebanese border but now exists in a grim, deadly world apart. Her welcoming party was ecstatic that a foreign reporter had braved the odds to reach them.

"So desperate were they that they bundled me into an open truck and drove at speed with the headlights on, everyone standing in the back shouting "Allahu akbar" -- God is the greatest," she wrote. "Inevitably, the Syrian Army opened fire."

She then transferred to a small car which was again fired upon, speeding into a row of abandoned buildings for cover.

But she found her story.

She described the "widows' basement" crammed with women cowering in the only shelter they could find in a city where there is only sugar and water to feed a newborn baby.

"Among the 300 huddling in this wood factory cellar in the besieged district of Baba Amr is 20-year-old Noor, who lost her husband and her home to the shells and rockets," Ms. Colvin wrote, etching in stark detail how the woman's husband and brother died when they went out into the streets to forage for food.

"It is a city of the cold and hungry, echoing to exploding shells and bursts of gunfire," she wrote, her overall description evoking some of the worst attacks of World War II. "There are no telephones and the electricity has been cut off."

"Few homes have diesel for the tin stoves they rely on for heat in the coldest winter that anyone can remember," the story said. "Freezing rain fills potholes, and snow drifts in through windows empty of glass. No shops are open, so families are sharing what they have with relatives and neighbors. Many of the dead and injured are those who risked foraging for food.

"Fearing the snipers' merciless eyes, families resorted last week to throwing bread across rooftops, or breaking through communal walls to pass unseen."

Escape was virtually impossible. …

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