Out of Syria's Carnage: A Survivor's Testimony of Bab Amr's Last Stand

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William Daniels / Panos for TIME

Feb. 22, 2012. A member of the Free Syrian Army rides in the back of a truck inside Bab Amr.

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The regime was closing in on Bab Amr, determined to crush what had become a stronghold of the rebel Free Syrian Army. Daniels had determined he would not abandon Bouvier. He says he was consumed instead by the fear that she would lose her leg. "I kept having three thoughts: Save Edith's leg. Get some of Rémi's things home. Get out of there," he says.

There was no easy way to get out of there. And living conditions were growing worse. The Syrian Army had bombed rooftop water tanks, so the taps ran dry after a few days. The only light was from candles and a gas lamp. Locals supplied blankets an oil heater for the bitter cold. Food was running low; one day, all they ate was a bowl of rice. The residents of Bab Amr were heartbreakingly kind, plying the journalists with candies and cigarettes, even hunting down imported Winstons for their guests. When a two-hour truce on Feb. 24 allowed Daniels and Espinosa a chance to retrieve a few possessions from their first bombed-out hideout, Daniels grabbed the energy bars from his dead friend Rémi Ochlik's bag. Then he picked up Ochlik's wallet, computer, passport and bomb-blasted camera, which "looked like a cauliflower," Daniels says. "Javier and I worried maybe it would upset his family too much. But I knew I had to bring things of Rémi's for them and his girlfriend."

It was during that ceasefire that Daniels finally shot photos of Bab Amr's devastation, and was taken to see Colvin and Ochlik's bodies in a makeshift morgue which residents had set up in a nearby apartment. The shrouds were marked in Arabic 'woman' and 'man.' So Daniels wrote their names in block letters, fearing the bodies would be lost in the turmoil. Three days later, hospital workers buried the corpses, having run out of fuel to continue the refrigeration process.

By the time Daniels returned to Bouvier after the brief ceasefire, five ambulances from the government-run Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) were parked outside their hideout. "We aren't here for you, we are here to get wounded Syrians," an ambulance worker told Daniels. "The ICRC is just outside Bab Amr, 500 meters away. You can talk to them."

Daniels borrowed the ambulance's radio set and raised the ICRC representative to Syria, Marianne Gasser. "You have to get us out!" he **SAID into the crackling handset. "Don't worry, we're negotiating to go into Bab Amr, and it should be fine," she told him.

Minutes passed. The Syrian ambulances offered to take Daniels and the others out of Bab Amr, but they would have to meet security forces first — a likely path to arrest. On the radio, Gasser assured Daniels that one ambulance would stay with them while another returned soon with an ICRC representative. Then, suddenly, one of the Syrian paramedics said, "We all have been ordered to leave now."

"You can't leave us!" Daniels pleaded desperately.

"We'll pick you up later. We have to leave now," he said, driving off. Soon after, government forces unleashed several rockets, seeming to aim directly at the journalists' hideout. "Here a rocket, here a rocket, here a rocket," Daniels says, marking crosses on a hand-drawn map as he retells the story. The journalists had been uncovered, and now, they were sitting ducks. Both in the blast which killed Colvin and Ochlik and now, Daniels believes the Syrian Army deliberately targeted them. The blasts continued for hours through the night and well into the morning. "We were really scared," he says, drawing a breath as he relives the terror. Despite the risk of capture or worse, he says, they received word from French authorities to leave as soon as possible. "We decided the very next ambulance that came we had to go with them."

But none came.

By the morning of Sunday Feb. 26, the Syrian Army had reached the edge of Bab Amr, and was poised to smash through the cordon. Time was running out. The four colleagues made a decision: they would escape the way they came, through the 2.5-mile tunnel. They taped Bouvier to a stretcher, and four Syrians took turns carrying her in twos. But the tunnel, a water pipeline, was only 5'4" feet high, so they had to crouch as they walked, dragging the heavy load. They fell further and further behind Conroy and Espinosa, who were ahead of them with several Syrian activists. Several people rode on motorbikes, which the opposition used to transport supplies into the besieged area and to take wounded people out. Suddenly there were explosions: The Army had attacked the tunnel's far end. People fled, screaming.

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