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Middle east

Northwest Syria town braces for army onslaught

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-06-07

A large number of Syrian military vehicles were seen heading towards the northwestern town of Jisr al-Shughur on Tuesday, prompting fears of a major army offensive after the government vowed to retaliate for the killing of 120 policemen.

AFP - Syrian dissidents were Tuesday fearing a harsh backlash after the authorities warned of a forceful response to what they said was a massacre of 120 policemen in the town of Jisr al-Shughur.

A Turkish diplomat told AFP in Ankara meanwhile that one person died from gunshot wounds when 41 refugees fleeing unrest in Syria crossed the border into Turkey over the weekend.

"Scores of military vehicles loaded with soldiers are travelling on the Harasta highway... They are probably headed to Jisr al-Shughur for a new massacre... Please be careful," the Syrian Revolution 2011, an anti-regime Facebook group spurring protests, posted Tuesday.

It advised pro-democracy activists in areas facing a crackdown by security forces and "gangs of the regimes" -- especially in the northern Idlib province -- to parry potential assaults by "burning tyres" and "blocking roads with stones and wood."

The group, which plays a central role in setting the tone and theme of protests that erupted against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad mid-March, called for fresh protests on Tuesday.

It dubbed it a day "of resurrection."

"The time of treachery is over," the group wrote on its page which has garnered 199,700 supporters online.

"Our revolution is peaceful, we want freedom, dignity and life. We do not endorse any foreign party or organisation," the group wrote.

"We do not call to battle and refuse to bear arms against our brothers in the Syrian army. We call on them to protect us and defend us against the shootings by agents" of the regime.

State television said on Monday the policemen were killed by "armed gangs" but rights activists said there had been a mutiny in the northwest Syria town where security forces had been carrying out operations for three days.

"The armed groups are committing a real massacre. They have mutilated bodies and thrown others into the Assi river," the state broadcaster said. "They have burned government buildings."

It said a total of 120 police were killed, including 80 at the town's security headquarters, without specifying the date of the incidents in Jisr al-Shughur.

Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim al-Shaar warned in a statement read on television 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," he said.

Two activists who spoke by telephone to AFP in Nicosia said the town was calm on Monday, and spoke of a mutiny at a local security headquarters, where shooting was heard the day before.

"I think they executed policemen who refused to open fire on demonstrators. There was a mutiny in the security service," one said.

The other told AFP that "shooting followed by an explosion was heard in the military HQ, apparently after a mutiny."

Monday's reports came a day after at least 40 people were killed, including 35 in Jisr al-Shughur, said the head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman.

He said 27 civilians and eight security agents were killed in the town as security forces pressed sweeps targeting anti-regime protesters in Idlib province.

The Turkish diplomat said dozens of Syrians had fled across the border in southern Turkey's Hatay province at the weekend.

Around 20 of them had arrived with injuries and were treated in Turkey, the source said.

"A man with gunshot wounds died in an ambulance heading to a hospital in Turkey, after he crossed the border in a serious condition," the diplomat said.

Since May 20, 88 wounded Syrians have arrived in Hatay in separate waves, including 45 on Sunday and two on Monday, according to a humanitarian source close to the Turkish Islamist charity IHH.

In Washington meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said France and other western powers are ready to risk a veto by Russia at the UN over a draft resolution to condemn political violence in Syria.

The draft was drawn up by France, Britain, Germany and Portugal. It condemns violence at the hands of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and asks him to open Syrian cities to humanitarian teams.

Rights groups say more than 1,100 civilians have been killed and at least 10,000 arrested in Syria since anti-regime protests erupted in mid-March.

Damascus blames the unrest on "armed terrorist gangs" backed by Islamists and foreign agitators.

Foreign journalists are barred from travelling around Syria, making it difficult to report on the unrest or verify government and witness accounts.

Date created : 2011-06-07