Seven people including journalists and security guards were killed by gunman who raided the headquarters of a pro-government Syrian TV channel, Ikhbariya TV, about 14 miles south of the capital of Damascus early this morning. The station is privately owned but has strong ties to President Bashar al-Assad. SANA, the Syrian state news agency, said that a rebel “massacre against the freedom of the press” had occurred. A number of other employees were wounded and security guards were reportedly kidnapped. The station continue to air its programs hours after the attacks.
Earlier this month, gunmen shot and seriously wounded two Ikhbariya employees, who had been covering the clashes between the regime’s forces and the rebels, in the north-western town of Haffa. The rebels have denied targeting the media.
The attacks are just the latest indications of an upsurge in violence. The BBC reports that at least 100 people were killed on Tuesday; a video shows reporter Ian Pannell meeting a family who are too scared to take their wounded children to the hospital.
Hours before the attack at around 4am this morning, Assad said that Syria was now “in a real state of war.”
Burhan Ghalioun, the former leader of the main opposition group, the Syrian National Council, says that part of northern Syria, the north-western province of Idlib, has been “liberated” from Assad and is now under the control of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Syrian Envoy Walks Out of UN Human Rights Council Meeting
The United Nations deputy envoy on Syria says that violence has now “reached or surpassed” levels before a ceasefire deal negotiated in April by Kofi Annan, special envoy to the UN.
On Tuesday at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, an investigation gave details of its report on the May 25 Houla massacre in which 108 including dozens of children were slain. Commission chairman Paulo Pinheiro said that “forces loyal to the government may have been responsible for many of the deaths” and cited three possible groups, the ”shabiha” or other local militia who perhaps acted with the army; anti-government armed groups, or foreign groups. However, Pinheiro said that it was “very much unlikely” that anti-government groups had carried out the killings. Condemning the meeting as “flagrantly political,” Faisal Khabbaz Hamoui, walked out.
A “See-saw Battle”
US intelligence officials predict a long and drawn-out conflict in what they have termed a “see-saw battle” in which “the military strikes hard, then the rebels change tactics and gain momentum, followed by the military forces stepping up again.” While two colonels and a general reportedly defected last week, most of the army remains loyal to Assad. A senior American official quoted in Reuters noted that “the regime inner circle and those at the next level still seem to be holding fairly firm in support of the regime and Assad.”
While sympathizers in Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been sending arms into Syria, these are mostly “small arms such as AK-47 automatic weapons, and some anti-tank guided munitions and rocket-propelled grenades.”
On June 30, an international conference will be held in Geneva where Annan hopes to revive his peace plan. Russia has requested that Iran, Syria’s close ally, attend; the US has said that it will not attend the meeting if Iran does. US allies are also opposed to Iran attending.
The UN estimates that at least 10,000 have been killed in the uprising that began in southern Syria in March of 2011 but activists put the figure at 40,000. The Syrian government reported in June that 6,947 Syrians had died, including at least 3,211 civilians and 2,566 security forces personnel.
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Photo by Freedom House