Journalist shot dead in Syria


A correspondent for Iran's English-language Press TV was shot dead by a sniper in Syria and its Damascus bureau chief was wounded, Press TV reported today.

"Insurgents in the Syrian capital Damascus have attacked Press TV staff and killed one of our reporters," anchor Bardia Honardar said on air.

Maya Naser, Press TV's correspondent in Damascus, was shot in the neck and Hussein Murtada, the channel's Damascus bureau chief, was injured in the attack while the two were covering twin bombings today that targeted one of Syria's top military command buildings in the capital, Press TV said.

Mr Murtada, who is also bureau chief for Iran's Arabic-language Al-Alam, was injured earlier this month while traveling with Syrian government forces when armed men ambushed them, Al-Alam reported.

More than 20 foreign and Syrian journalists have been killed in Syria since the revolt against president Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Iran has supported Dr Assad, its sole Arab ally, as he attempts to suppress the uprising.

Syrian rebels claimed responsibility for the twin bombings, which gutted the army command headquarters.

Four security guards were killed and 14 civilians and security personnel were wounded in the blasts, Syrian state television quoted a military source as saying.

The Free Syrian Army, the main rebel force fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, claimed responsibility for the attack in the heart of the capital that ignited a fire that gutted the army command headquarters.

It was the biggest attack in Damascus since July 18th when a blast killed several senior security officials, including Dr Assad's brother-in-law, the defence minister and a general.

Today's attack took place as international leaders met at the United Nations, where deadlock between world powers over Syria has blocked any global response to the conflict which activists say has killed 27,000 people, forced a quarter of a million refugees to flee the country and left 2.5 million people in need of help.

The uprising, which erupted in March last year as mainly peaceful protests for reform, has become an armed insurgency pitting mainly Sunni Muslim rebels against Dr Assad, from the Alawite faith which is close to Shia Islam.

Shia Iran supports Dr Assad while regional Sunni powers have backed the rebels. One Sunni leader, the Emir of Qatar, told the United Nations that Arab countries should intervene "to stop the bloodshed", but few Arab states are likely to back his call.

UN special envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi said Syria's crisis was "extremely bad and getting worse."

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the violence through a network of activists in the country, said 240 people were killed in Syria yesterday. Most were civilians but the death toll included 54 members of Dr Assad's security forces.

Internet footage of today's s fire at the General Staff Command Building showed flames engulfing its upper floors.

"The attack in Damascus once again proves that, with sufficient planning and co-ordination, the opposition appears to retain the ability to strike at the heart of regime," said David Hartwell, Middle East analyst at IHS Jane's.

"This is despite the fact that the FSA has appeared in recent weeks to be under pressure as a result of the fighting in Aleppo and other parts of the country."

The main gate of the military complex was blackened from the fire while all the windows of the building were blown out. Glass shards littered nearby streets and a deep crater was gouged in the road, apparently formed when an explosive-laden car blew up.

Residents reported that gunfire rattled out around the district for at least two hours after the explosions. Roads in the area were blocked off as ambulances rushed to the scene.

"All our colleagues in the military leadership, the army staff command and the Defence Ministry are unhurt," Information Minister Omran Zoabi told Syrian Television.

He said security forces were chasing "armed terrorists" - a term the authorities use to refer to the insurgents.

"It's a terrorist act, close to an important site, that's true. But as usual they failed to achieve their goal," he said.

</p> <p>Activist Samir al-Shami said the main explosions were caused by a suicide car bombing and second car loaded with explosives on the perimeter of the complex.</p> <p>"Then the fighters went inside and clashed with security inside, while some of the men started to torch the building," he said.</p> <p>That appeared to tally with accounts from residents who heard gunfire and smaller blasts after the first explosions.</p> <p>"The explosions were very loud. They shook the whole city and the windows of our house were shuddering," one resident reached by telephone said.</p> <p>A reporter for al-Manar television, run by Assad's Lebanese ally Hezbollah, said he was in the building after the explosion and saw the bodies of three armed men, suggesting clashes between security forces and rebels at the site.</p> <p><strong>Reuters</strong></p>

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