Deadly attack on Syrian TV station ahead of crisis meeting

Deadly attack on Syrian TV station ahead of crisis meeting

Gunmen stormed a Syrian pro-government television channel Wednesday near the capital Damascus, killing seven employees, state media reported, in one of the boldest assaults yet in the 16-month conflict.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that Wednesday's death toll in Syria reached 150 people, including women and children, dpa reported.

The observatory said most of the deaths occurred in the central province of Homs, Idlib near the Syrian-Turkish border and Deir al-zour in eastern Syria. State television showed earlier footage of extensive damage caused to the studios of privately owned al-Ikhbariya television.

"The terrorist groups stormed the offices of al-Ikhbariya, planted explosives in the studios and blew them up, destroying all the equipment," Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi said on state television.

He held the European Union, as well as Arab and international organizations, responsible for the attack, without elaborating.The EU has included an unnamed pro-government television channel in its latest round of sanctions, which were imposed Monday against Syrian authorities.

A cameraman working for al-Ikhbariya told dpa the attack occurred in the early morning. "The attackers first fired heavy machine guns and then entered, screaming 'God is Great.' They started throwing explosives inside the buildings," he said.

SANA said the attackers had set off blasts in two buildings, located 20 kilometres south of Damascus. Sources at the broadcaster put the death toll at eight and told dpa that those slain were guards and technicians. Hours after the attack, Arab League-United Nations envoy Kofi Annan said that a meeting on the Syrian crisis would be held Saturday.

"I look forward to a productive meeting this weekend, where we can all agree on concrete actions to end the cycle of violence and bring peace and stability to the Syrian people," Annan said in Geneva.

Foreign ministers of the five permanent UN Security Council members and the Arab League are to meet in Geneva to discuss a plan to end Syria's drawn-out crisis, according to Annan.

He did not mention Iran, a close Syrian ally, as a potential participant in the meeting. Russia had been insisting on Iran's attendance, despite strong opposition from the United States.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday in Helsinki that a new plan by Annan, laying out a political transition in Syria, would increase pressure on President Bashar al-Assad.

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