Syrian opposition fighters attacked a high-profile military facility and armed assailants bombed a pro-regime television station near Damascus on Wednesday, forcing President Bashar al-Assad to announce that his country is at war.
In an address to his Cabinet on Tuesday, Mr. Assad said that Syria was in a “real situation of war”. His comments came after an emboldened armed opposition targeted an elite Republican Guard facility on the outskirts of Damascus. Six people were killed in the attack.
Syria’s state-run news agency, SANA is also reporting that anti-regime forces stormed the offices of al-Ikhbaria satellite channel on Wednesday. The assailants “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. SANA initially said that three employees were killed, but later revised its estimate to seven during the attack on the privately owned, pro-government channel, located 22 km south of the capital. Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said the killings marked “the worst massacre against journalism and the freedom of media.” He warned that this “massacre won't go unpunished and the broadcast of the Syrian al-Ikhbaryia Satellite will not stop and we hold the EU and Arab and International organisations responsible for this massacre”.
As internal strife deepened, military tensions with neighbouring Turkey have risen sharply after the shooting down by Syrian forces of a Turkish fighter jet that had strayed into Syrian airspace on Friday.
The downing of the Turkish plane led the NATO alliance, of which Turkey is a part, to condemn Syria’s action as “unacceptable”.
But there was some respite for the regime, which has been recently deluged with criticism about its human rights record, when the Geneva based United Nations Human Right Council, said, following an investigation that it was unable to pin blame with any precision on the identity of those responsible for the massacre of 108 civilian in the Houla region in western Syrian on May 25. The Houla killings, compared by some with the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia, had raised a global outcry against the Syrian regime, on suspicions that the Sabeeha militia, loyal to the regime was responsible for the carnage.
However, the Council noted that it “considers that forces loyal to the government may have been responsible for many of the deaths”. The panel also rebuked both sides of committing rights violations, including summary executions on an “alarming scale” in recent months.
Despite the spurt in violence, diplomacy, so far centred around the six point plan authored by Kofi Annan, the U.N.-Arab League envoy on Syria has continued to play its part. Mr. Annan has called for a meeting in Geneva on June 30 of the five permanent members of the Security Council and Turkey. Iran has not been invited for the conference, despite the advocacy of Tehran’s presence on the table by Russia. On Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that “Iran should take part in the meeting, otherwise the circle of participants will not be full and not all of those who really have an influence on the main Syrian sides [of the conflict] will be present.”
But, Mr. Annan has declined to invite Iran, but neither has he sent invitations to Saudi Arabia and Qatar — two countries, which have stood fully opposed to Iran’s presence in Geneva.