An official Syrian news report says the gunmen who killed soldiers in Jisr Shughur were wearing military uniforms. If true, it lends credence to reports of clashes between security forces loyal to Assad and others who oppose the crackdown on protesters.
Reporting from Beirut and Istanbul, Turkey—
Gunmen in "military uniform and government cars" were responsible for the
recent killings of as many as 120 Syrian security forces in the northwestern
city of Jisr Shughur, the official Syrian Arab News Agency said
The news agency's statement could signal a dramatic division
within Syria's security forces and lend credence to opposition claims of clashes
between forces loyal to President Bashar Assad and those refusing to take part
in a violent crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrators.
However, reports of internal divisions and fighting between branches of the
security forces have been trickling out for weeks. But, by and large, Syrian
security forces -- unlike those that stood aside or helped revolutions in
Tunisia and Egypt -- have remained loyal to the regime. Assad, a member of the
Alawite minority, a small Shiite Muslim sect, has staffed the upper reaches of
the armed forces' officer corps with co-religionists. The majority of Syrians
are Sunni Muslims.
Thousands of security forces reportedly converged in
the northern region Wednesday. Residents of villages near Jisr Shughur said that
security forces had massed scores of tanks and armored personnel vehicles on the
city's outskirts. Some residents fled and sought safety in mosques, churches and
schools, according to reports. There was no way to independently verify
The reports Wednesday followed a particularly
violent crackdown on protesters Friday in Jisr Shughur, long a focal point of
antigovernment unrest. Residents reached by telephone have told foreign
journalists that some security forces refused to fire on the thousands of
demonstrators Friday and on other days.
"There is a battle between those
who are obeying orders to shoot peaceful demonstrators and those who aren't,"
said Ahmad, a college student in Jisr Shughur reached by telephone. He asked
that his last name not be used for fear of angering authorities.
said dozens of civilians had been killed in the city since Friday, when massive
"They were met by army personnel who didn't assault
them," Ahmad said. "But soon security forces arrived and snipers claimed
rooftops and began an offensive on army personnel and civilians."
said residents had detained members of the security forces, but he rejected
allegations that townspeople had been using weapons against the
One amateur video posted on the Internet and dated Monday
showed residents of the city holding olive branches and demanding that the army
not enter their city.
"There are no criminals here," they
"They are claiming that terrorist groups are taking over whole
cities?" Ahmad said. "Don't they know how ridiculous it sounds? "We are simple,
hopeful townsfolk. We do not have weapons. And even if some people had any
weapons in their homes in the beginning ... the security [forces] have already
Critics accuse the Syrian regime of twisting
facts to match an increasingly implausible narrative that they are promoting.
According to reports by state news agencies, "terrorists" allegedly obtained
military uniforms and government vehicles and used them to "film themselves
committing acts of vandalism" to frame the Syrian army.
attacked the police and security centers as well as other government and private
institutions, violated the streets, neighborhoods and houses, and used rooftops
to sniper and shoot at citizens and security forces," SANA
Syrian human rights activists based abroad say the fighting in
Jisr Shughur might herald a key crack in the security forces. In recent days, Al
Jazeera satellite channel has aired an amateur video clip of a young army
lieutenant from central Syria saying that he is defecting after being ordered to
fire on unarmed protesters.
Another Syrian described as a civilian
employee of the security forces told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that the job of his
organization, the Military Security, was to "curb demonstrations, protect only
Bashar Assad, carry out terrorist operations, shoot unarmed civilians and shoot
any army member" who defied orders to kill demonstrators.
The violence in
Jisr Shughur has prompted some residents to seek safety just across the border
in southern Turkey.
Khalid Alahmed, a resident, said he was taken to a
clinic in Antab, Turkey, on Sunday after he was shot in his right shoulder and
right leg during a protest. He said he saw nine of his friends shot and
"We were protesting in a peaceful protest," he said, speaking by
telephone from the clinic. "We were hit with bullets. We don't know where they
He denied reports that dozens of army soldiers had been
killed by armed gangs. He said they were shot after they didn't follow orders to
open fire on protesters.
According to Turkey's semi-official Anatolia
news agency, by Wednesday 220 people had arrived at a Red Crescent camp on the
Turkish border, further alienating the regime in Damascus from a once steadfast
"What's going on in Syria is saddening," said Turkish Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who announced that his nation would welcome any
Syrians seeking refuge. "Our concern has risen. I hope the Syrian government
makes its stance more tolerant toward civilians."
correspondent Hajjar reported from Beirut and Times staff writer Daragahi from
Istanbul. Times staff writer Raja Abdulrahim in Los Angeles contributed to this