Has Syria's peaceful uprising turned into an insurrection?
The Syrian regime's claims that 120 soldiers and security personnel were killed in Jisr al-Shughur over the weekend have intensified the debate over who is behind the uptick in armed resistance.
When the Syrian regime intensified its crackdown against the opposition movement using live ammunition, tanks, and even attack helicopters, it was perhaps inevitable that at some point someone would start shooting back.Skip to next paragraph
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Now there are increasing reports of armed resistance to Syrian soldiers and security forces, most recently in the northwestern town of Jisr al-Shughur, where the regime claims 120 of its personnel were killed over the weekend.
The violence in Jisr al-Shughur has intensified the debate over who is resisting – whether Syria's uprising has turned into an insurrection, or whether the regime's own forces have turned on each other. In either case, Syria appears to have moved into a new phase in the conflict between the 40-year Assad regime and anti-government forces.
The regime pins the blame on “armed criminal gangs” and Islamic extremists, awakening within Syria’s sectarian and multiethnic society specters of violence perpetrated by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood three decades ago. Lending some support to the claim is the huge spike in arms trafficking to Syria in recent weeks.
The opposition protesters insist the movement remains peaceful, however. Any clashes occurring, they say, are between troops loyal to the regime and conscripted soldiers who have mutinied in sympathy with the protesters.
“We know that some military personnel have joined with the citizens and are staying with them in their houses because they refused to shoot the people,” says a Beirut-based Syrian activist with the Local Coordination Committees, an opposition clearing house for information from Syria. Speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons, she added that the opposition has amassed numerous eyewitness accounts of soldiers being shot by security forces for disobeying orders to open fire on protesters.
On Tuesday night, for example, three Syrian soldiers were shot and wounded when they defected and attempted to cross the Kabir river which marks Lebanon’s northern border with Syria, according to local Lebanese residents. A fourth man, a Lebanese diesel fuel smuggler, was shot dead in the same incident and his body was later recovered from the river bed.
Regime warns of retaliation