Syrian state TV reported that at least 120 people — mostly police and security forces — were killed on Monday after being ambushed by “armed groups” in the northwestern town of Jisr al-Shughour, 10 miles from the Turkish border. Syrian forces have deployed military troops in the town for days, as part of a crackdown against anti-government protests there. State media also says that eight guards were killed when a pipe bomb burst at a post office and that at least 37 were killed under firing from the “armed gangs.”
Opposition activists have countered the official reports, saying that the government is seeking to create the grounds for retaliation against the protests, which have been going on since the middle of March. As others point out, “armed gangs never roamed Syria before the Arab spring,” says the Guardian.
The reports from SANA, the state news agency, initially reported that 28 security personnel were killed, only to revise the number to 43, 80 and then 120, all within the space of an hour. As the Guardian points out, these figures cannot be verified as the government does not allow foreign journalists to report from Syria. The BBC‘s Jim Muir says that “if official reports are correct, it would be the first time officials have admitted to such a large loss of personnel.”
Video footage from residents and eyewitness reports have shown plainclothes policemen and armed forces shooting at unarmed protesters. An activist in Jisr al-Shughour who spoke to Al Jazeera on the condition of anonymity described the situation as “quiet” on Monday after the previous day’s violence.” He added:
“The Syrian television is always against the street. If we have hundreds of demonstrators, the Syrian TV will say dozens. There is a big gap between the media in Syria and what is happening in the street.”
As Wissam Tarif, a Syrian human rights activist who is currently outside of the country, says in the New York Times, “Protesters do not have weapons they could even use against tanks and helicopters, which the regime is using.” According to the Guardian,
Activists have admitted that a small number of protesters, pushed to the extreme by over two months of a crackdown that has seen tanks and even helicopters bombard cities and towns, are fighting back, including in Jisr al-Shughour and Tel Kalakh.
Two men from Jisr al-Shughour said some protesters had returned fire when shot at by security forces in the past few days, but did not know of Sunday night’s ambush.
Analysts suggest further explanations could include exaggerated numbers, the killing of plain-clothed security forces by accident by other forces or the deliberate killing of forces due to defections.
“We can’t know who killed the security because no one is allowed in to see,” said Rami Abdul-Rahman, of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which claimed at least 27 civilians and 13 security force personnel had been killed in Jisr al-Shughour over the weekend.
“You can’t control people who see their relatives killed or tortured and not expect a small minority not to fight back, but it is all regime-stoked,” he said.
Reporting from Beirut in Lebanon, Al Jazeera reporter Rula Amin says that “It is very difficult to verify the two different versions of these events.” While the protesters have been “keen” on emphasizing the peaceful nature of their calls for change in Syria, in the past two days activists and opposition figures have been debating on Facebook and Twitter “on the new phenomenon of some of the protesters resorting to arms, attacking the security forces, sometimes with weapons.” Middle East analyst Fares Braizat described a “war of pictures and a war of the media” going on in Syria, with the official state TV version indeed the only version available to viewer in Syria and outside of Syria,” except for activists’ efforts to post videos and other reports.
Over 1,000 have been killed and over 10,000 detained in the unrest that began in the southern city of Dara’a back in March. The regime of President Bashar al-Assad has made concessions, such as a lifting of the emergency law, that seem almost entirely symbolic as security forces and the army have fired on protesters, as protesters including children have been detained — and tortured — as tanks and troops have laid siege to cities including Dara’a, Hama, Banias, Rastan and Talbisa.
Also on Monday, violence broke out at a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, a day after Israeli troops shot a number protesters at a rally in support of Palestinians on the Syrian-Israeli border at the Golan Heights. According to the New York Times, the Syrian news agency SANA reported 22 had been killed and more than 350 had been wounded. In yet another dispute over the truth of SANA’s reports, Israel has disputed the number of those killed.
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