The Assad regime has been accused of deliberately targeting journalists after three reporters from an Syrian opposition news network were killed in a missile strike south of the capital, Damascus.
The journalists, from the opposition-linked TV station Orient News, were traveling to an area of heavy fighting when their car was hit late on Monday evening in Daraa province, the channel said.
Although traveling in a car without press markings, the channel said they would have been easily identifiable from the large satellite dish attached to the roof.
The journalists, who had recently started working for Orient News, were said to be on their way to the town of Sheikh Miskeen. Around 50 miles south of the capital Damascus it has been the scene of heavy fighting in recent weeks between government forces and rebel groups, including the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and local al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra.
The Committee to Protect Journalists cited Orient News as saying that the journalists had passed government troops in the village of Qarfa. The organisation was unable to confirm local reports the missile was fired from the village and directly targeted the car. However, the organization said its research suggested that the regime had targeted journalists in an attempt to silence their reporting, adding that Orient News had released more than 40 broadcasts and 60 reports from southern Syria in the past two months, including a YouTube report on opposition advances in the area posted on the day of the attack.
"So many Syrian journalists have paid the ultimate price for reporting on this conflict, but even for Syria, the loss of three journalists in one attack is devastating," CPJ Middle East and North Africa program coordinator Sherif Mansour said in a statement.
The BBC reported that a loose collection of rebels under the FSA banner have been making slow progress towards the capital Damascus from the city of Daraa in the south. Reports suggest rebel groups have made advances in Sheikh Miskeen but that the village of Qarfa, from where the missile was reportedly launched, remains in government control. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based monitoring group, reported on Monday that Jabhat al-Nusra had launched two suicide attacks in Sheikh Miskeen.
According to SOHR up to two-thirds of Sheikh Miskeen is now controlled by al-Nusra and the FSA.
The CPJ has suggested that Bashar al-Assad's forces have deliberately targeted journalists sympathetic to the opposition, with some reports claiming captured journalists have been tortured. Over 70 journalists have been killed in the conflict, with a significant majority being local Syrian journalists. Pro-regime local news organisation Al-Masdar Al-'Arabi reported on November 7 that Al Jazeera journalist Mohammed Nour was injured while traveling with Jabhat al-Nusra outside of Sheikh Miskeen.
Jason Stern, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa Research, told VICE News that 75 percent of journalists killed had died in crossfire or combat situations. However, he added: "The regime is certainly targeting opposition journalists through arrests, with at least 12 journalists currently imprisoned as a result of their work. Many of those journalists have disappeared into the regime's prison cells without a trace, and at least three journalists have died while in custody."
Chris Doyle, the director of the London-based Council For Arab And British Understanding (CAABU), said that the targeting of local journalists is part of a wider regime strategy to control the narrative of the conflict. He told VICE News: "In some ways local journalists are more of a threat right now than international ones. The regime is always primarily concerned with how Syrians perceive it. It needs to intimidate any opposition, keep loyalists close to it and convince Syrians that the regime will win."