Middle East

Syria in state of war, says Bashar al-Assad

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Media captionThe BBC's Ian Pannell meets a family who are too afraid to take their wounded children to hospital

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said his country is in "a state of war", more than a year after the uprising against his rule began.

Addressing his new cabinet, Mr Assad said that all efforts had to be directed towards winning the war.

Hours later, gunmen attacked pro-government Ikhbariya TV channel, killing three people, state media said.

The UN's human rights council is due to hear a report on Syria, including its findings on the Houla massacre.

A commission of inquiry has been investigating human rights violations in the conflict and its chairman, Paulo Pinheiro, was able to enter the country for the first time on Monday.

Earlier this month, the Geneva-based UN council called on the commission to find out who carried out last month's killings in Houla in which 108 people died.

'Winning this war'

"We live in a real state of war from all angles," President Assad told members of the cabinet who were sworn in on Tuesday.

"When we are in a war, all policies and all sides and all sectors need to be directed at winning this war."

He criticised countries that have been calling for him to stand down, saying that the West "takes and never gives and this has been proven at every stage".

Image caption President Assad has promised reforms but the opposition says they do not go far enough

He added: "We want good relations with all countries but we must know where our interests lie."

Earlier, activists said fierce fighting in suburbs of the capital Damascus on Tuesday had been the worst there so far.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that clashes took place near Republican Guard positions in Qudsiya and al-Hama, about 8km (5 miles) from the centre of Damascus.

Correspondents say it is rare for fighting to take place near Republican Guard bases and suggests a growing confidence among the rebels.

The elite Republican Guard, led by President Assad's younger brother Maher, is tasked with protecting the capital.

Wednesday morning's attack on Ikhbariya TV south of Damascus blew up the newsroom, Sana news agency reported.

"Three journalists and workers" were killed in the attack, it said.

The BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut says the station was targeted by EU sanctions announced on Monday.

Civilians trapped

On Tuesday, Turkey said the rules of engagement for its military had changed after Syria shot down a F-4 Phantom jet over the eastern Mediterranean last week.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told parliament that if Syrian troops approached Turkey's borders, they would be seen as a threat.

Image caption Anti-government protests, like this one near Damascus, are continuing across the country

"Every military element approaching Turkey from the Syrian border and representing a security risk and danger will be assessed as a military threat and will be treated as a military target," he said.

Syria insists that the F-4 Phantom was shot down because it was inside Syrian airspace. Turkey says the plane in international airspace.

Nato, of which Turkey is a member, convened an emergency meeting of its ambassadors on Tuesday and afterwards expressed "strong solidarity" with Ankara.

In other developments on Tuesday, the head of the UN's peacekeeping operations, Herve Ladsous, said its monitoring mission in Syria would remain suspended because of mounting violence.

In April, following months of bloodshed, the Syrian government agreed to a six-point peace plan brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. UN monitors were deployed to Syria to oversee a ceasefire but the truce never took hold.

On Tuesday Russia said its foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, would attend an international conference on Syria which Mr Annan hopes to hold in Geneva on 30 June to revive his peace plan.

However, Moscow is insisting that Iran also be allowed to attend, a move strongly opposed by the US and its allies.

The BBC's Barbara Plett at UN headquarters in New York says that without an agreement on either the agenda or who will participate, it is not yet clear whether the meeting will go ahead.

Last year, in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters took to the streets of Syria's cities demanding greater freedom and political reform.

Since then, the UN says at least 10,000 people have died. In April, the Syrian government reported that 6,143 Syrian citizens had been killed by "terrorist groups".

The main rebel fighting group, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), has become increasingly better organised - and armed - and is in effective control of swathes of Idlib province and parts of Aleppo province in the north.