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Syrian gunmen kill TV station staff


Anti-regime protests in Syria (AP)

Anti-regime protests in Syria (AP)

Anti-regime protests in Syria (AP)

Gunmen have attacked the headquarters of a pro-government Syrian TV station killing seven employees and kidnapping others.

Al-Ikhbariya is privately-owned but strongly supports president Bashar Assad's regime. Pro-government journalists have been attacked on several previous occasions during the country's 15-month uprising.

Rebels deny they target the media. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group confirmed the raid and the deaths of several employees, but had no other information.

Information Minister Omran al-Zoebi said that gunmen stormed the station compound in the town of Drousha, south of the capital Damascus, placed explosives and then detonated them. He said the attackers killed seven people and kidnapped others.

"What happened today is a massacre, a massacre against the freedom of the press," he said. "They carried out a terrifying massacre by executing the employees."

An worker at the station said several other staff were wounded in the attack, which happened just before 4am local time. He said the gunmen kidnapped him along with several station guards. He was released but the guards were not.

The employee, who did not give his name for fear of repercussions, said the gunmen drove him about 200 yards away, and then he heard the explosion of the station being demolished.

Earlier this month, two Ikhbariya employees were shot and seriously wounded by gunmen in the north-western town of Haffa while covering clashes between government troops and insurgents.

Hours after the attack, the station was still on the air, broadcasting a rally in Damascus' main square against the station raid.

Meanwhile Burhan Ghalioun, the former leader of Syria's main opposition group, said he briefly entered rebel-held areas in the north of the country in a rare trip by the exiled political opposition to the interior of the country. Ghalioun told Al-Jazeera TV that the areas he visited in Idlib province are ruling themselves, without any regime presence.