BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian forces pounded a suburb of the capital Damascus with mortars and artillery shells Saturday, a day after rebels operating in the town abducted a pro-government TV crew, activists said. It was the latest attack on pro-regime media and the latest abduction blamed on rebels in Syria's escalating civil war.
Imad Sarah, general manager of Al-Ikhbariya station, says that the three journalists and their drivers were seized Friday in al-Tal suburb just north of Damascus by an armed group while they were covering violence in the area. The station blamed "terrorists" and said efforts were under way to release them.
Syrian authorities routinely refer to Syrian rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad's regime as terrorists.
Rebels deny they target the media and have not claimed responsibility for any of the attacks. The rebel movement is highly splintered and different groups may have different standards as to whom they consider a valid target. But much of the opposition says pro-government media outlets are legitimate targets as mouthpieces of the Syrian regime.
Fighters from the Free Syrian Army are known to be active in al-Tal and other Damascus suburbs that have witnessed fierce clashes between the two sides on almost daily basis in recent weeks. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least six people were killed Friday in heavy shelling on al-Tal, causing many residents to flee the area.
The group, which relies on a network of activists on the ground in Syria, said rebels targeted a tank during the clashes in al-Tal, setting it on fire. The report could not be independently confirmed.
Mohammed Saeed, an activist in al-Tal, said government forces had been attacking al-Tal since Thursday. He said they were using helicopters to strafe the town have bombarded it with mortars and artillery shells, adding that two hospitals in the area were targeted.
"The situation is very grave and the town is completely besieged," he said, adding that many of the residents of al-Tal were refugees from nearby suburbs that have been hard hit from the government crackdown.
Kidnappings have become increasingly common as the civil war escalates in Syria.
Syrian rebels last week intercepted a bus carrying 48 Iranians in a Damascus suburb and seized them. Rebels claimed the men are military personnel, including some members of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard, who were on a "reconnaissance mission" to help Assad's crackdown.
Iran, however, says the 48 were pilgrims visiting a Shiite shrine in Damascus.
The overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim rebels have also seized 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims who have been held in northern Syria since May.
Al-Ikhbariya is privately-owned but strongly supports Assad's regime. Pro-government journalists have been attacked on several previous occasions during the country's 17-month uprising.
In June, gunmen raided Al-Ikhbariya's headquarters south of Damascus, killing seven employees. In a separate incident, a reporter and a cameraman for the station were wounded when bullets hit their car while covering violence in central Syria.
On Tuesday, a bomb blast ripped through the headquarters of Syrian state TV in Damascus, wounding several employees and causing heavy material damage.
AP writer Albert Aji contributed to this report from Damascus.