At least seven people have killed been killed after gunmen raided the offices of a pro-government television station near Damascus, the latest sign of violence reaching the Syrian capital.
The attack early on Wednesday morning targeted Al-Ikhbariya, a privately-owned station which strongly supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Gunmen used explosives and reportedly kidnapped a number of employees, according to witnesses.
The incident came just hours after Assad told his newly-appointed cabinet on Tuesday evening that the country was “in a state of war”.
A photographer from the AP news agency who visited the station said five portable buildings used for offices and studios had collapsed, with blood on the floor and wooden partitions still on fire. Some walls had bullet holes.
The channel’s headquarters are in Drousha, about 20km south of Damascus.
Omran al-Zoebi, the Syrian information minister, termed the attack “a massacre against freedom of the press” and blamed it on terrorists.
Syrian rebels deny that they target the media, though there have been several attacks on pro-government media, including one earlier this month, also on Al-Ikhbariya.
Two of the channel’s employees were shot and seriously wounded in the town of Haffa while covering clashes between government troops and rebels.
Fighting has recently inched closer to the Syrian capital, previously a relative island of calm amidst the 16-month-old uprising in many other parts of the country.
Videos posted by activists appeared to show gunfire and explosions in several other suburbs of the capital on Tuesday night.
Troops killed in Deir az-Zour, Idlib
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said on Wednesday that she has “great hope” a meeting of world powers this weekend in Geneva can be a turning point in the Syria crisis.
But the UN gave a dire assessment of the crisis on Wednesday, saying in a report that the violence has worsened since a ceasefire deal that was supposed to go into effect in April.
The report also said violence had become increasingly sectarian.
Activists reported violence elsewhere across Syria on Wednesday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least ten government soldiers were killed in an ambush in the eastern province of Deir az-Zour.
The group said that rebels were also able to shoot down a helicopter gunship in Idlib province. Amateur videos showed a helicopter burning in a field, but their claim could not be independently verified.
In neighbouring Turkey, about 30 more Syrian soldiers defected with their families overnight, the country’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported. It was not clear if the group included any senior officers.
Also on Wednesday, Burhan Ghalioun, the former leader of Syria’s main opposition group, said he briefly entered rebel-held areas in the north of the country, a rare foray inside Syria by the exiled political opposition.
He told Al Jazeera that the areas he visited – in Idlib province – were ruling themselves, without any control from the government.
“I went to see the war that the Syrian regime is staging,” he said. “The regime continues to shell and kill … [but] part of the country is liberated.”