Rebels Attack Syrian Broadcaster as Assad Talks of War
By Rod Nordland, Hwaida Saad and Alan Cowell, NY Times, June 27, 2012
BEIRUT, Lebanon—A day after President Bashar al-Assad said Syria was living in a “state of war,” rebels operating with increasing audacity around the capital were reported by the country’s official media on Wednesday to have stormed into a pro-government television station, killed several employees and planted explosives that destroyed studios.
The assault came as a United Nations panel investigating human rights in Syria accused government forces on Wednesday of committing violations on “an alarming scale” in recent months, but also found that both sides in the conflict had carried out summary executions.
The latest attack followed a surprise assault on Tuesday by Syrian insurgents on a Republican Guard base in the capital, Damascus, just a few miles from the presidential palace, provoking a furious military response, with government forces shelling surrounding neighborhoods. The escalation brought combat in the Syrian conflict close to the heart of the capital.
The violence spilled into Wednesday when, before dawn, attackers at the al-Ikhbaria satellite broadcaster “planted explosive devices in the headquarters of al-Ikhbaria following their ransacking and destroying of the satellite channel studios, including the newsroom studio which was entirely destroyed,” the official Syrian news agency SANA reported. While initial reports from SANA said three employees were killed, a subsequent official estimate put the death toll at seven.
In the fighting on Tuesday, antigovernment activists estimated that at least 33 people were killed in the artillery barrages on the Damascus suburb of Qudssaya aimed at the Free Syrian Army insurgents, less than three miles northwest of President Assad’s official residence, and on Barzeh in northern Damascus, about three miles northeast.
Mr. Assad, in remarks to his cabinet reported by the official SANA news agency, did not explicitly acknowledge the proximity of the fighting, but said “we live in a state of war.” As such, he said, “all our policies, directives and all sectors will be directed in order to gain victory in this war.” Previously, he had characterized the 16-month-old uprising as a crime wave by foreign-backed terrorists.
In an apparently unrelated development, a Syrian Air Force lieutenant general was kidnapped by armed men from his home in Damascus, according to Syrian State Television, who identified him as Lt. Gen. Farage Shihada al-Maqat. He was abducted in the Adawi neighborhood of Damascus, an exclusive area where dignitaries and Russian advisers live. If the report is true, General Maqat would be the highest-ranking officer to be kidnapped or killed since the uprising began. More than 13 generals are among a wave of high-ranking officers who have defected to the opposition recently.