Sky journalists 'targeted' by Syrian regime on Idlib frontline

Josie Ensor

Veteran Sky News correspondent Alex Crawford has said she and her production team were “deliberately targeted” by the Syrian government this week while reporting on the frontline.

Crawford had been covering the battle between Islamist Hayat Tahrir al-Sham fighters and regime forces in the town of Habit in Idlib - the rebels’ final stronghold - when the area was hit on Wednesday afternoon.

None of the team was injured. However, an independent American journalist and activist Bilal Abdul Kareem who had been travelling with them was lightly wounded by shrapnel.

In a video released by Sky News on Thursday, Crawford and a videographer can be seen running through smoke after a strike.

Alex Crawford (pictured) was unhurt but an independent journalist travelling with the crew was lightly wounded

Writing about the incident on Sky News’s website, Crawford said they had clearly identified themselves as journalists with “press” markings on their flak jackets.

“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,” Crawford said.

“We were spotted by a military drone and then repeatedly shot at with what we believe were 125mm shells probably fired from a T-72 Russian battle tank.

“As we retreated to leave the area, the targeting of us continued.”

Martin Vowles, a Sky producer, can be heard screaming at Crawford in panic.

"Go, go, go," he shouts, telling her to make her way to the car.

Crawford claimed the Syrian regime was in “clear violations of the normal standards of operation in a battlezone.”

The intentional targeting of journalists is also a breach of international law.

The regime has a history of targeting both local and foreign journalists reporting from rebel-held areas.

The Sky team had clearly identified themselves as journalists but came under heavy fire as they covered a battle between the regime and rebels Credit: Sky

In 2012, Sunday Times correspondent Marie Colvin was killed after the makeshift rebel media centre in which she was staying in Homs was deliberately targeted by government forces.

A US court found that the Syrian regime had been tracking her movements after infiltrating satellite communications.

President Bashar al-Assad initially claimed that his forces had not known who was in the house, however later said the American-born journalist was responsible for her own death as she had been "working with terrorists."

Citing the regime's effort to silence those reporting on its crimes, Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the US District Court for the District of Columbia imposed more than $302 million in damages against Syria for its "unconscionable attack."

She determined that it was part of “Syria’s long-standing policy of violence” against journalists, who were “labelled enemies of the state.”

Fighting in Idlib has escalated in recent weeks, in violation of a truce agreed by Turkey, Russia and Iran.

The Syrian regime and its Russian backers have been carrying out air strikes on civilian areas, such as markets, as well as hospitals.

More than 18 medical facilities have been hit since the latest offensive began last month.

The United Nations has warned that an all-out offensive on the Idlib region would lead to a humanitarian catastrophe for its nearly three million residents.

More than 200,000 people have already been displaced by an upsurge of violence since April 28, the UN has said.

“We were lucky and we can escape Syria,” said Crawford. There are more than three million civilians inside Idlib right now who can't.”