DAMASCUS – Syrian anti-government protesters warned on Tuesday, June 7, of an expected massacre in the town of Jisr al-Shughur as a long line of military vehicles and enforcements moved towards the tiny town following reports of killing 120 police and army members yesterday.
"Thirteen military vehicles are heading to Jisr al-Shughur," where the alleged massacre took place, an activist in the northwestern town told Agence France Presse (AFP) by telephone.
According to Syrian officials, the new army enforcements headed to the town of Jisr al-Shughur after the authorities said 120 policemen were massacred there.
The death toll is the bloodiest in nearly 12 weeks of popular protests against President Bashar al-Assad's 11-year rule.
In a statement recited on Television on Monday, Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim al-Shaar warned that the authorities would hit back.
"The state will act firmly, with force and in line with the law. It will not stay arms folded in the face of armed attacks on the security of the homeland," Shaar said.
Residents and activists dispute this version of the story, saying the casualties followed a mutiny among forces sent to quell civilian protests.
They confirmed that violence began when scores of civilians were killed in a crackdown on the hill town on a road between Syria's second city Aleppo and the port of Latakia.
They said security men had raided homes and made scores of arbitrary arrests after the town's largest pro-democracy protest on Friday when at least five people were killed.
The killings enraged the town and prompted defections from security police and troops belonging to Syria's Sunni Muslim majority, they said.
Assad and many of his army and security commanders are from the minority Alawite sect.
"Military intelligence agents and security police stormed the town on Monday. Snipers began firing at people who dared go out in the streets," one resident told Reuters by phone, adding that six military intelligence agents were killed.
“Bodies lay in the streets. Around 100 police and soldiers defected and stood with us.”
Similar reports were confirmed by the Syrian human rights organization Sawasiah who confirmed that the 120 people killed were mostly civilians, or troops apparently shot dead by security agents who refused to join in the crackdown.
Expecting a massacre in Jisr al-Shughur, the new military crackdown on the tiny town was compared to a similar attack on the city of Hama in 1982, where many thousands were killed.
“The authorities are repeating their pattern of killings,” a Sawasiah spokesman told Reuters.
“They choose the town or city where demonstrations have been most vibrant and punish the population.”
Having a different situation on the ground, the Syrian protests in 2011 were gaining support from members of the Syrian army, the reports supported by different human rights bodies.
“An army unit or division arrived in the area in the morning,” Wissam Tarif, director of human rights organization Insan, said,
“It seems then another unit arrived (later) to contain the mutiny,” he added, confirming that he had spoken to several people in Jisr al-Shughour who confirmed that account.
A rising army mutiny was solidified after al-Jazeera channel aired footage on Tuesday of what it said was a defecting Syrian lieutenant calling on other soldiers to stand up against al-Assad and stop repressing protests against his rule.
"After what we've seen from crimes in Deraa and all over Syria, I am unable to continue with the Syrian
Arab army," the man, who identified himself as First Lieutenant AbdulRazzaq Mohammed Tlas from the town of Rastan in Homs province, said in the footage aired on Al Jazeera television.
Tlas, dressed in army fatigues with two stars on his badge of rank, also said he witnessed "massacres" in the town of Sanamein, where he lived in army barracks.
"I urge the army, and I say 'Is the army for stealing and protecting the Assad family'?" Tlas said.
Furthermore, he urged army officers and soldiers to join the civilian revolution against Al-Assad regime.
"I call on all the honorable officers to inform your soldiers about the real picture, use your conscience."
"You joined the army, not to protect the Assad machine. You are an honorable officer. Stay honorable. And if you are not honorable, stay with Assad," he said.
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