An all-out assault on residents of Jisr al-Shughour a town in northern Syria is feared after an uprising against security forces this past week which the government claims that 120 soldiers and police officers had been killed in the town by armed gangs, the government’s euphemism for protesters. Some residents and opposition activists have claimed that some of the soldiers had been killed by their colleagues for defecting, though it is hard to verify either account.
If the residents’ accounts are authentic, it would mark a division in a government that to date has appeared to have maintained the relative unity of the armed forces and the state in the face of the uprising.
By nightfall Tuesday most of the 41,000 inhabitants had fled to nearby Turkey before the expected escalation in a three-month uprising which has pitched mostly unarmed demonstrators against a regime using increasingly lethal force to suppress the gravest threat to its four-decade rule.
The anticipated military operation against the town recalls the infamous assault by Syrian government troops on the town of Hama 29 years ago, in which tens of thousands of residents were killed by the former president Hafez al-Assad after they launched a failed challenge to his authority.
The bloody events this week appear to mark a decisive moment in an uprising that has posed the gravest challenge to the Assad family’s 41-year rule.