Clashes Near Damascus After Assad Admits 'State Of War'

Last updated (GMT/UTC): 27.06.2012 17:39
Amid continued fighting between rebel forces and Syrian government troops, at least seven people have been reported killed in an attack on a pro-government television station.
Syrian state-run media said gunmen early on June 27 attacked Ikhbariya TV in the town of Drousha, about 20 kilometers south of Damascus. The reports said three journalists and four security guards had died in the assault. Ikhbariya is a privately owned broadcaster that supports Assad's regime.
Footage broadcast by state-run television showed extensive damage to the station's studios. Government officials condemned the bloodshed as a "massacre" committed by "terrorists."
The United States on June 27 condemned all acts of violence in Syria, including the attack on Ikhbariya.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Washington condemned "all acts of violence including those targeting pro-regime elements." He called on all parties to end hostilities.
Meanwhile, troops from Assad's elite Republican Guard have been battling opposition fighters near Damascus in clashes described by activists as some of the most intense yet.
The violence comes a day after President Bashar al-Assad said Syria was in a "state of war" and ordered his newly appointed government to direct all its efforts to subdue the uprising.
"As I said in my speech in parliament, we are living in a state of real war from all angles," Assad said. "When we live in such a situation, all policies and all sides and all sectors need to be directed at winning this war."
In Geneva on June 27, a team of United Nations investigators told the UN Human Rights Council that Syrian government forces have committed grave human rights violations -- including executions -- "on an alarming scale" during the past three months.
The investigators said growing numbers of Syrians are being targeted by government troops on the basis of their religion compared to earlier crackdowns which targeted people for their opposition to Assad's regime.
"The commission considered it has reasonable grounds to believe that government forces and Shabbiha [militia fighters] have perpetrated unlawful killings, arbitrary arrests, and detention, torture, and other forms of ill treatment in the reporting period," said Paulo Pinheiro, the chief UN investigator on Syria.
The UN investigators say they still are not able to confirm who massacred more than 100 people, most of them women and children, in the village of Houla last month. But they said "forces loyal to the government may have been responsible for many of the deaths."
Syria's ambassador walked out of the debate, saying Damascus would "not participate in this flagrantly political meeting."
President Bashar al-Assad addresses his new cabinet during a swearing-in ceremony in Damascus on June 26.
​​The latest developments come as Assad has faced a wave of high-profile defections in recent days -- including several senior officers and soldiers who have fled to neighboring Turkey.
Although high-level defections appear to be increasing, Assad's inner circle has reportedly remained largely intact.
The new government he named last week -- and which was sworn in on June 26 -- is headed by Riad Farid Hijab, a key loyalist and member of the ruling Baath Party. The foreign, defense, and interior ministers have retained their posts.
Clinton On European Tour
Syria's escalating conflict also was expected to be high on the agenda of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as she began a three-nation European tour Wednesday.
Clinton plans to visit Finland, Latvia, and Russia, ahead of a Geneva meeting on Syria on June 30 involving the five permanent UN Security Council members and Syria's neighbors.
Clinton was expected to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on June 29 in St. Petersburg to discuss the meeting.
The United States is calling for Assad to step down, while Russia has said Syrians themselves must decide who runs the country.
Russia wants Syrian ally Iran to be invited to the Geneva meeting, but Washington is against that move.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, AFP, and dpa