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.
(Page 2 of 3)
With foreign reporters banned from the country, divining the truth of the accusations and counter-allegations is almost impossible. But both the regime and the opposition appear to agree that the clashes in Jisr al-Shughur was a significant confrontation in the two-month uprising.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
According to the Syrian authorities, hundreds of militants armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades ambushed security forces and attacked government buildings, blowing up a police station with gas cylinder bombs and throwing the bodies of their victims into the Orontes river which flows through the town.
Syrian Interior Minister Mohammed al-Shaar warned that the state would act “firmly and decisively” and “would not stay arms folded in the face of armed attacks.”
“This is the latest sign that this is going to get much much worse,” says Andrew Tabler, a Syria specialist at the Washington Institute. “Because the regime continues to increase its repression against the protesters, it is inevitable that the levels of violence are going to go up.”
The opposition maintains that the clash was between loyalist troops and deserting soldiers.
Eerie echoes of violence in Jisr al-Shughur
Jisr al-Shughur is a conservative Sunni populated town with a history of rebellion against the regime. In March 1980, an anti-regime demonstration turned deadly when protesters burned down the headquarters of the ruling Baath Party and raided a nearby army barracks, stealing weapons and ammunition.
Syrian special forces were deployed to Jisr al-Shughur which they retook after pounding the town with rockets and mortars, destroying homes and shops and killing and wounding dozens of people. A military tribunal established the next day led to the executions of more than 100 detainees. In all 150 to 200 residents of Jisr al-Shughur died in the crackdown.
The latest bloodshed in Jisr al-Shughur, as described in the version offered by the Syrian authorities, has an eerie echo of the violence perpetrated 31 years ago and sounds an ominous portent of what might follow in the coming days as the Syrian army prepares to launch an offensive against the town.
Wild card: Militants
Still, other than army deserters and angry protesters who may have resorted to arms, there are other more militant-minded individuals in Syria who may take advantage of the security chaos to mount armed resistance against a nominally secular regime dominated by the minority Alawite community, an obscure offshoot of Shiite Islam.