Gunmen stormed a pro-government Syrian TV channel headquarters yesterday, bombing buildings and shooting dead three employees, state media said, in one of the boldest attacks yet on a symbol of the authoritarian state.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad declared late on Tuesday that his country was “at war.” US intelligence officials said the Syrian government was “holding fairly firm” and digging in for a long struggle against rebel forces who are getting stronger.
The dawn attack on Ikhbariya television’s offices, located 20km south of the capital, as well as overnight fighting on the outskirts of Damascus showed 16 months of violence now rapidly encroaching on the capital.
Ikhbariya resumed broadcasting shortly after the attack, displaying bullet holes in its two-story concrete building and pools of blood on the floor. One building had been almost completely destroyed.
“I heard a small explosion, then a huge explosion and gunmen ran in. They ransacked the offices and entirely destroyed the newsroom,” an employee who works at the offices in the town of Drousha told state media at the scene.
The Syrian media are tightly regulated by the Ministry of Information. Although Ikhbariya is privately owned, opponents of al-Assad say it is a government mouthpiece.
After Tuesday’s fighting unprecedented in its intensity around Damascus, violence appeared to ease off around the capital following the attack on the television complex. However, rebel forces were clearly becoming stronger and more ambitious.
During the pro-democracy revolt against the al-Assad family’s four-decade rule, Ikhbariya has been pushing to counter what it says is a campaign of misinformation by Western and Arab satellite channels on the uprising that began in March last year.
“We live in a real state of war from all angles,” al-Assad told a Cabinet he appointed on Tuesday, in a speech broadcast on state television. “When we are in a war, all policies and all sides and all sectors need to be directed at winning this war.”
The declaration marks a change of rhetoric from al-Assad, who had long dismissed the uprising against him as the work of scattered militants in “terrorist gangs” funded from abroad.
The rambling speech — al-Assad also commented on subjects as far afield as the benefits of renewable energy — left little room for compromise. He denounced the West, which “takes and never gives, and this has been proven at every stage.”
Despite the deterioration in Syria, so far there has been no sign of an appetite for full-scale Western intervention. However, last week’s shooting down of a Turkish warplane by Syrian air defenses has focused attention on a volatile situation on Turkey’s southeastern border with Syria.
“We will not refrain from teaching a lesson to anyone trying to test Turkey’s greatness,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan said yesterday, referring to the incident near the countries’ maritime borders.