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Gunmen kill three at Syrian pro-Assad Ikhbariya TV

Published: June 27, 2012 | 10:40 am
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Gunmen have attacked a Syrian pro-government TV channel, killing at least three people.

The attack on Ikhbariya TV south of Damascus destroyed the newsroom, Sana news agency reported.

Hours earlier, President Bashar al-Assad said Syria was in “a real state of war”, as US intelligence officials predicted a long, drawn-out struggle.

The UN’s deputy envoy on Syria says the violence has “reached or surpassed” levels before the April ceasefire deal.

Jean-Marie Guehenno told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that “time was running out”.

He was speaking shortly before a commission of inquiry gave details of its report on the Houla massacre on 25 May in which 108 people died.

Commission chairman Paulo Pinheiro told the council that “forces loyal to the government may have been responsible for many of the deaths” but he said his team had been unable to determine who was behind the massacre.

Mr Pinheiro said the perpetrators were from one of three groups: “shabiha” or other local militia from neighbouring villages perhaps acting with the army; anti-government armoured groups; or foreign groups.

“While the commission could not rule out the possibility of anti-government fighters being responsible for the killing, this was considered very much unlikely,” he said.

Syrian ambassador Faisal Khabbaz Hamoui condemned the meeting as “flagrantly political” and walked out of the hall.

‘Cold blood’
The BBC’s Jim Muir in Beirut says that Syrian TV dropped normal programming on Wednesday to run live coverage of the attack on the headquarters of Ikhbariya TV in the town of Drusha, some 20km (14 miles) south of the capital.

State TV showed pictures of burnt and wrecked buildings, with fires still smouldering.

Syria’s information minister Omran al-Zoebi, on a visit to the site, said the three victims had been abducted, bound, and killed in cold blood.

On Monday, the EU criticised Syria’s state-run TV and radio agency for its support of the Assad government.

The attack comes after fierce clashes in suburbs of the capital Damascus, described by opposition activists as the worst there so far. Dozens of people were killed.

The BBC’s Ian Pannell meets a family who are too afraid to take their wounded children to hospital
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighting had taken place place near positions of the Republican Guard, which is led by President Assad’s younger brother Maher and has the role of protecting the capital.

In a separate development, Syrian sources said that a senior air force officer, Maj-Gen Faraj Shehadeh, was abducted by armed men from his home in Damascus.

Our correspondent says the latest violence gives emphasis to Mr Assad’s description of Syria as in “a state or war” just a few hours before.

Addressing his new cabinet, the president criticised countries that have been calling for him to stand down, saying that the West “takes and never gives, and this has been proven at every stage”.

‘Seesaw battle’
Senior US intelligence officials have described the conflict between the rebels and the government as a “seesaw battle”, suggesting that it likely to be a long, drawn-out struggle.

“The regime inner circle and those at the next level still seem to be holding fairly firm in support of the regime and Assad,” one official was quoted by Reuters as saying during a briefing to reporters.

Recent defections were described as low- or mid-level.

Earlier this week, a general and two colonels were said to have fled to Turkey with 30 other Syrian soldiers.
In April, following months of bloodshed, the Syrian government agreed to a six-point peace plan brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. UN monitors were deployed to Syria to oversee a ceasefire but the truce never took hold.

On Tuesday Russia said its Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, would attend an international conference on Syria which Mr Annan hopes to hold in Geneva on 30 June to revive his peace plan.

However, Moscow is insisting that Iran also be allowed to attend, a move strongly opposed by the US and its allies.

The UN says at least 10,000 people have died in the uprising that began in March 2011. The Syrian government says 6,143 Syrian citizens have been killed by “terrorist groups” since.

The main rebel fighting group, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), has become increasingly better organised – and armed – and is in effective control of swathes of Idlib province and parts of Aleppo province in the north.


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