Syria Says 120 Police Killed by 'Armed Gangs' in Jisr Shughour

Some 120 Syrian police officers taking part in security operations alongside the army in the northwest were killed by "armed gangs" in the town of Jisr Shugour on Monday, state-run news agency SANA quoted a Syrian official as saying.

"The armed groups are committing a veritable massacre. They have mutilated bodies and thrown others into the Assi river," state television reported earlier. "They have burned government buildings."

"Armed gangs ambushed police who were on their way to rescue citizens being terrorized" by these gangs, it added.

The report said groups are armed with "medium weapons, grenades and are using residents as human shields."

Elsewhere, "eight guards at a post office were also killed by armed gangs, who used the building's gas pipes to blow it up," it added.

Two activists who spoke to Agence France Presse disputed the official version of events, saying the town was calm on Monday.

They spoke of a mutiny at a local security headquarters, where shooting was heard on Sunday.

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

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

He said regime "snipers" had opened fire on protesters in the town, killing two. Demonstrators then gathered outside the headquarters and "shots and an explosion took place inside" the building, he said.

The state television report said: "The police and security agents are confronting hundreds of armed men. They have managed to liberate one district controlled by gunmen" in Jisr Shughour.

It said residents of the town, 330 kilometers north of Damascus, had "pleaded for help and the rapid intervention of the army."

Violence across Syria on Sunday left at least 40 people dead, including 35 in Jisr Shughour, Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Agence France Presse on Monday.

Thirty-five people -- 27 civilians and eight security agents -- were killed in Jisr Shughour as military and security forces continued operations against anti-regime protesters in northwestern Idlib province.

Further north, in the town of Idlib, security forces scattered some 1,500 demonstrators, he said.

Two civilians were also reported killed in the Mediterranean coastal town of Jabla when security forces opened fire to disperse demonstrators calling for the release of a detained sheikh.

In the eastern town of Deir Ezzor, security forces shot at protesters marching in front of a building of the ruling Baath party, killing three of them, Abdul Rahman said.

On Sunday, security forces returned the body of a man kept in custody for a month to his parents in the Damascus suburb of Douma.

Six human rights groups within Syria on Monday issued a joint statement condemning "the excessive use of force to disperse peaceful gatherings of unarmed Syrian citizens."

The groups call on the government to "stop the spiral of violence and assassinations in the streets of Syria."

They also demanded an independent and transparent commission of inquiry "to unmask those responsible for the violence."

Rights groups say more than 1,100 civilians have been killed and at least 10,000 arrested in Syria since protests against the government of President Bashar al-Assad erupted in mid-March.

Damascus insists the unrest is the work of "armed terrorist gangs" backed by Islamists and foreign agitators.

Source: Agence France Presse

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