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French journalist killed in Syria flashpoint city

A file picture taken on Oct. 9, 2010 in Bayeux, shows Gilles Jacquier of France 2 television receiving a trophy after winning the new television category award - grand-format television for reports of up to 26 minutes -- for a story on a school in Afghanistan, during the annual Bayeux-Calvados prizes ceremony honoring war correspondents. Jacquier was killed on Jan. 11, 2012 when a rocket exploded as journalists covered a story in the Syrian city of Homs. AFP photo / Kenzo Tribouillard
The online news portal of TV5

HOMS, Syria - French television reporter Gilles Jacquier was mowed down by an artillery shell in the flashpoint city of Homs on Wednesday, becoming the first Western journalist to be killed in 10 months of deadly unrest across Syria.

An Agence France-Presse photographer at the scene said France 2 prize-winning reporter Jacquier, 43, was killed and a Dutch freelance photographer, Steven Wassenaar, was wounded by shrapnel.

The Dutch foreign ministry said the photographer was briefly hospitalized.

"We arrived in Homs accompanied by security and provincial officials. All the journalists insisted that we go out to check the situation," the AFP photographer said.

"The authorities decided to take us to Hadara," a district inhabited by Alawites, the same minority Islamic sect that Syria's President Bashar al-Assad belongs to, he said.

"A first shell crashed onto a building as we were interviewing pro-Assad demonstrators who followed us as we walked toward the building," he said.

"We went up on the roof. As we started to climb back down, I saw dead bodies on the ground and started to photograph them. The other journalists went down to see what was happening," said the photographer.

"Those who went out of the building received a direct hit by a third shell," he said.

"Pro-Assad activists were also hit. When I went down, I saw Gilles lying in a pool of blood. An ambulance drove up and I jumped in. At the hospital, it was chaos and total hysteria, with more wounded arriving every five minutes."

Al-Dounia, a private Syrian television channel, broadcast a bird's eye view of the incident from a rooftop, starting with a shell which crashed 200 meters (yards) from the journalists, many of them on the pavement in front of the building.

Another landed in front of the building, throwing up a cloud of dust, which cleared to reveal the bodies of the victims. Panic then ensued as the journalists and their Syrian escorts tried to help the wounded.

France demanded an investigation into the journalist's death.

"We vigorously condemn this odious act," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in a statement, demanding that the circumstances of the death be clarified and reminding Syria of its duty to protect foreign journalists.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said six Syrians were also killed in the shelling, joining calls for a probe.

While anti-Assad activists blamed the authorities, state television said it was "a terrorist group" which had opened fire on the journalists on a government-organized tour and a gathering of regime supporters.

Jacquier joined French public television in 1991 and was an award-winning veteran who had covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and Israel.

Bertrand Coq, a journalist with whom Jacquier in 2003 jointly won France's top journalism prize, the Prix Albert Londres, paid tribute to his late colleague.

"Gilles was an excellent war reporter," he said, noting that Jacquier took a bullet in the shoulder while on an assignment in the West Bank in 2003.