Syrian activists fear retaliation after 120 soldiers ‘are shot dead’

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Syrian activists said they feared a bloody escalation in violence last night after the Baathist regime claimed 120 members of the security forces had been gunned down by armed groups in a town near the Turkish border.

A report on Syrian state television claimed the security men had died after a clash in Jisr al-Shughour, a north-western town about 12 miles from Turkey. Since Saturday, the town has been in the grip of a deadly spiral of violence between the military and protesters, but the claims by state television – which have been met with scepticism by activists and Syrian exiles – would mark a grave turn of events.

Television reports said armed groups had torched government buildings and were using machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades to battle with civilians and security groups.

Yet the claims were met with widespread disbelief. "To have killed 120 members of the security forces in Syria you would need an army," said Housam Mohammad, a Syrian journalist who lives in the UK.

He was worried the situation would be used by President Bashar al-Assad to move against his enemies in the town.

Radwan Ziadeh, a Syrian human rights activist living in Washington, said: "I don't believe it. We don't have names. We don't have footage."

There have also been reports police officers or soldiers have been shot dead after refusing to fire on demonstrators. "The security forces kill anybody who refuses to follow orders," Mohamed Karkouti, a Syrian exile based in Abu Dhabi, told The Independent.

But an activist speaking to Reuters said this was not the case in Jisr al-Shughour. "The [police and security members] were killed by gunmen. Some people in some areas have taken up arms," he said.

Human rights groups said at least 42 civilians had been killed in Jisr al-Shughour since Saturday. Civilians in the town reported that most of the deaths happened after rooftop snipers started firing on a funeral procession.

The shootings came after security forces killed at least 70 people across Syria on Friday. Rights activists say more than 1,100 people have died and many more have been arrested and tortured since mid-March.

‘14 killed at refugee camp’

Fourteen people were reportedly killed and 43 injured as violence erupted in a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria yesterday. The victims were residents of Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, according to a report from the Palestinian government’s Wafa news agency. Thousands had gathered to mourn those killed during protests at the border fence with Israel on Sunday.

The crowd reportedly attacked the headquarters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Commend (PFLP-GC) to express anger at the failure of the group to organise demonstrations to mark the anniversary of the 1967 Middle East War. Militants from the PFLP-GC responded by opening fire on the crowd, the report said. The report cited hospital staff within the camp who said 14 were killed.