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Seven die in attack on pro-regime Syrian TV station

Syria's pro-government television station has been attacked. Seven people were killed. ITV's Bill Neely reports.

Updated 7:30 a.m. ET: Gunmen raided the headquarters of a pro-government Syrian TV station early Wednesday, killing seven employees, kidnapping others and demolishing buildings, officials said. 

An Associated Press photographer who visited the Al-Ikhbariya station's compound 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. 


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, although such incidents are comparatively rare. 

Information Minister Omran al-Zoebi said the killings were "a massacre against the freedom of the press" in remarks broadcast on state TV.

He later told reporters that it had been carried out by terrorists -- the same word the government uses for rebels.  Rebels deny they target the media. 

"The terrorists planted explosive devices in the headquarters of al-Ikhbariya following their ransacking of the satellite channel studios, including the newsroom which was entirely destroyed," the state media said.

Restrictions on the media make it difficult to verify accounts of events on the ground. 

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

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

SANA via EPA

Damage to a TV channel's building in Drousha, outside Damascus on Wednesday.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Picture supplied by the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency.

"I was terrified when they blindfolded me and took me away," the man said by telephone. 

'Quickly deteriorating'
Also on Wednesday, Syrian government forces have committed human rights violations, including executions, across the country "on an alarming scale" during military operations in the past three months, United Nations investigators said. 

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Their report, presented by investigation head Paulo Pinheiro to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, also listed multiple killings and kidnappings by armed opposition groups trying to topple  Assad. 

"The situation on the ground is dangerously and quickly deteriorating," the 20-page report said. 

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"In the increasingly militarised context, human rights violations are occuring across the country on an alarming scale during military operations against locations believed to be hosting defectors and/or those perceived as affiliated with anti-government armed groups, including the Free Syrian Army," it said. 

Syria's ambassador dismissed the accusations and threatened to end cooperation with international agencies. 

The investigation's report also said it was unable to determine who carried out a massacre of more than 100 people in Houla in May but that forces loyal to Assad may have carried out many of the killings. 

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Activists reported violence throughout Syria on Wednesday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist network, said at least 10 government soldiers were killed in an ambush in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour. 

In neighboring Turkey, some 30 more Syrian soldiers defected with their families overnight, the country's state-run Anadolu news agency reported Wednesday. It was not clear if the group included any senior officers. 

Assad's regime has suffered an embarrassing string of high-ranking defections this week, with dozens of soldiers, including senior officers, reported to have fled to Turkey. 

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Much of the violence that has gripped Syria over the past 15 months has been sanctioned by the government to crush dissent. But rebel fighters are launching increasingly deadly attacks on regime targets, and several massive suicide attacks this year suggest al-Qaida or other extremists are joining the fray. 

Many in the opposition consider the media an arm of the regime. Syria does not have a free press and most news organizations are either state-run or private bodies that carry the government's point of view. Most of the private TV stations and newspapers are owned by politicians or wealthy businessmen who have close links to the regime. 

Assad denies that there is any popular will behind the uprising, saying terrorists are behind a conspiracy to destroy the country. 

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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