Syria: Slaughter at TV station sparks world summit plea
A man stands next to the blood-stained floor of a pro-government Syrian TV station, Al-Ikhbariya news channel, in Damascus after a rebel attack yesterday left seven dead. REUTERS
KOFI Annan summoned world powers last night to an emergency meeting on the Syrian crisis after rebels launched a highly symbolic strike on a pro-government television station in Damascus.
With the country's increasingly violent civil war beginning to engulf the capital, Mr Annan, the UN's Syrian envoy, convened a crisis summit in Geneva for Saturday.
The permanent members of the UN Security Council, representatives from the Arab League and Syria's neighbours will meet to discuss plans that Western diplomats say include the removal of President Bashar al-Assad from power.
A last-minute compromise ensured that Western allies -- the United States, Britain and France -- will sit down alongside Russia at the meeting. Russia had refused to attend unless Iran was also allowed in, but relented after Mr Annan withheld an invitation to Iran's regional rival Saudi Arabia as a compromise.
A British diplomat said the worsening situation in the country, which even Mr Assad has admitted is now in a state of war, meant there was an acceptance that a peaceful outcome had to involve the removal of the Syrian regime's figurehead. "We are now getting to the point where there is broad agreement on the road map," the diplomat said. Russia has vehemently denied previous suggestions that it was supporting regime change in Damascus, notably after a meeting of G20 leaders in Los Cabos, Mexico, where British officials said President Vladimir Putin had agreed in principle to put pressure on Mr Assad to step down.
But the situation has deteriorated within the country in recent days. Last week was the most bloody since the start of the uprising, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group which said 916 people had been killed between June 20 to 26.
Yesterday, rebels made one of their most daring raids to date, attacking a pro-regime but private television station in Damascus, planting bombs and killing seven people.
The dawn attack on Ikhbariya television's offices was condemned by the United States and human rights groups including Amnesty International, who said that even if they were acting as agents of propaganda for a dictatorship, media organisations were civilian and should not be targets.
Ikhbariya resumed broadcasting shortly after the attack, displaying bullet holes in its two-storey concrete building and pools of blood on the floor. One building was almost entirely destroyed. On Tuesday, there were running battles between government forces and rebels in the suburbs of west Damascus, and the main road to the Lebanese border was briefly cut. Large areas of northern Syria are now out of regime control.
Although Saudi Arabia was also not invited to the Geneva meeting, Qatar, which has led the Arab world in opposition to the Syrian regime, and representatives of the Arab League, which has called for Mr Assad to stand down in favour of his vice-president, will be attending.
Turkey, which has moved closer to a war footing with Syria following the shooting down of one of its fighter jets, will also be present. The Syrian information minister, Omran al-Zoebi, belatedly tried to claim last night that troops may have mistaken the jet for an Israeli plane, in an attempt to soothe relations with Ankara, formerly seen as an ally.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)