BEIRUT – Gunmen attacked a pro-government TV station Wednesday near the Syrian capital, killing seven employees in the latest barrage of violence as world powers prepared for a high-level meeting that the U.S. hopes will be a turning point in the crisis.

Invitations to Saturday’s gathering in Geneva were sent by special envoy Kofi Annan to the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — including Syrian allies Russia and China — but not to major regional players Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The absence of those two countries, as well as the lack of any appetite for international military intervention, could make it difficult for the group to find the leverage to end the bloodshed in Syria. An effort by Annan to broker a peace plan failed earlier this year.

Diplomatic hopes have rested on Russia — Syria’s most important ally and protector — agreeing on a transition plan that would end the Assad family dynasty, which has ruled Syria for more than four decades. But Moscow has rejected efforts by outside forces to end the conflict or any plan to force regime change in Damascus.

The United Nations said Wednesday that the conflict, which began in March 2011 as part of the Arab Spring that swept aside entrenched leaders across the region, is descending into sectarian warfare.

An Associated Press photographer said the attack on the Al-Ikhbariya TV station in the town of Drousha, about 14 miles south of the capital Damascus, left bloodstains on the ground and bullet holes in the walls. The attack heavily damaged five portable buildings used for offices and studios.

Al-Ikhbariya is privately owned but strongly supports the regime.

“What happened today is a massacre,” Information Minister Omran al-Zoebi told reporters. He blamed terrorists – the same term the government uses for rebels.