Thirteen Syrian volunteers have been killed while smuggling a British photographer out of the besieged city of Homs.
The extraordinary 26-hour operation to evacuate wounded Sunday Times journalist Paul Conroy into Lebanon along a 20-mile smuggling route came despite the continued bombardment of the city.
Three other journalists, including the badly injured French correspondent Edith Bouvier, were separated from the 47-year-old Briton by the intensity of Syrian army fire.
David Cameron yesterday ruled out military intervention in Syria as too dangerous after defence chiefs warned that a no-fly zone - as seen in Libya - could not be enforced because the country’s air defences are too strong.
The Prime Minister instead approved plans to lead a diplomatic offensive to secure a United Nations Security Council resolution to help evacuate the wounded from Syria.
The UN has confirmed that Syrian forces have killed more than 7 500 civilians since the revolt against president Bashar al-Assad began a year ago.
Mr Conroy, a former soldier and a father of three, was said to be in “good shape and good spirits” as he received treatment in Beirut for leg wounds sustained last week during the shelling of a makeshift press centre that killed veteran war correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik.
At their family home in Totnes, Devon, Mr Conroy’s wife Kate said: “We are delighted and overjoyed at the news.” His father Les added: “We’re all very relieved and happy that Paul’s out.”
Mr Conroy and his colleagues decided to try to escape with the help of Syrian volunteers during a break in the shelling on Sunday night, following several attempts to rescue the injured and recover bodies.
They chose to take a smuggling route that had successfully taken 40 wounded Syrians to neighbouring Lebanon over the previous six days. The passage is used nightly to bring in medical supplies and food and to extract the wounded from Homs.
A spokesman for human rights group Avaaz said: “The activists that we co-ordinate got [the group of four journalists] all to the exit place from the actual neighbourhood where they had been waiting. From that point the operation went wrong.
“They were shelled. Three activists were killed, and Paul Conroy was the only one to get out. The others got split up, and we believe that they turned back to Homs. They were shelled again and more of our activists were killed.
“Paul went into hiding again and we finally got him out after 26 hours from start to finish.” - Daily Mail