Gunmen kill staff at TV base backing president

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Gunmen have attacked the headquarters of a pro-government Syrian TV station killing seven employees and kidnapping others.

Al-Ikhbariya is privately-owned but strongly supports President Bashar Assad’s regime. Pro-government journalists have been attacked on several previous occasions during the country’s 15-month uprising.

Rebels deny they target the media. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group confirmed the raid and the deaths of several employees, but had no other information.

Information Minister Omran al-Zoebi said that gunmen stormed the station compound in the town of Drousha, south of the capital Damascus, placed explosives and then detonated them. He said the attackers killed seven people and kidnapped others.

“What happened today is a massacre, a massacre against the freedom of the press,” he said. “They carried out a terrifying massacre by executing the employees.”

A worker at the station said several other staff were wounded in the attack, which happened just before 4am local time. He said the gunmen kidnapped him along with several station guards. He was released but the guards were not.

The employee, who did not give his name for fear of repercussions, said the gunmen drove him about 200 yards away, and then he heard the explosion of the station being demolished.

Earlier this month, two Ikhbariya employees were shot and seriously wounded by gunmen in the north-western town of Haffa while covering clashes between government troops and insurgents.

Hours after the attack, the station was still on the air, broadcasting a rally in Damascus’ main square against the station raid.

In another development yesterday, Burhan Ghalioun, the former leader of Syria’s main opposition group, said he briefly entered rebel-held areas in the north of the country in a rare trip by the exiled political opposition to the interior of the country. Ghalioun told Al-Jazeera TV that the areas he visited in Idlib province are ruling themselves, without any regime presence.

Meanwhile, world powers will meet in Geneva on Saturday in an attempt to find ways of ending the violence in Syria, senior diplomats at the United Nations said yesterday.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will be joined by other senior diplomats from the UN Security Council nations and possibly neighbours of Syria, the diplomats said.

Russia and the United States have both said they want to help UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan as he tries to revive a six-point peace plan for Syria, but Russia and China, two of the Security Council’s five permanent members, have twice shielded Syria from UN sanctions over a crackdown on the uprising against Assad’s regime.

Separately, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and a panel of UN human rights investigators headed by Brazilian professor and diplomat Paulo Sergio Pinheiro are due to report to the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Mr Annan’s deputy, Jean-Marie Guehenno, a former UN peacekeeping chief, and UN high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay will address the council.

A senior UN official said violence in Syria had “reached or even surpassed” levels seen before the ceasefire agreement of April 12.

Mr Guehenno said the six-point plan forged by Mr Annan “is clearly not being implemented”, adding that the Syrian government and rebel groups must be made to understand there are “consequences” to failure to implement the six-point plan.

Two bombs exploded in a Baghdad suburb yesterday, killing at least eight people, Iraqi police said. It is the latest attack in a particularly bloody month as the Iraqi government struggles to provide security. The first blast went off outside a house belonging to a Shiite family in Wahda, a suburban neighbourhood just south east of Baghdad. Minutes later, as neighbours gathered at the scene, a second bomb exploded near the crowd.