BEIRUT, Lebanon - Gunmen in "military uniform and government cars" were responsible for the recent killings of up to 120 members of Syria's security forces in the northwestern city of Jisr Shughur, the official Syrian Arab News Agency said Wednesday.
Its statement could signal a dramatic division within Syria's security forces. It lends credence to opposition claims of clashes between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those refusing to take part in a violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.
Reports of the clashes between branches of Syria's security forces have been trickling in for weeks. But, by and large, Syria's security forces - unlike those that stood aside or helped revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt - have remained loyal to the regime. Assad, a member of mostly Sunni Arab Syria's Alawite Muslim minority sect, has staffed the upper reaches of the armed forces' officer corps with co-religionists.
Thousands of security forces reportedly converged Wednesday on the northern region, with residents of villages near Jisr Shughur saying that security forces had amassed scores of tanks and armored personnel vehicles on the city's outskirts.
Some residents fled and sought safety in mosques, churches, and schools, according to reports. There was no way to independently verify individual accounts.
The reports Wednesday followed a particularly violent crackdown on protesters Friday in Jisr Shughur, long a focal point of antigovernment unrest. Residents reached by phone have told international media that some members of the security forces refused to open fire on the thousands of demonstrators Friday and other days.
"There is a battle between those who are obeying orders to shoot peaceful demonstrators and those who aren't," Ahmad, a college student in Jisr Shughur who asked that his last name not be used for fear of angering authorities, said by phone Wednesday. He said dozens of civilians had been killed in the city since Friday, when massive protests erupted.
Also Wednesday, European nations seeking to increase pressure on Assad's regime presented a revised resolution to the United Nations condemning Syria for its deadly crackdown on peaceful protesters.
Britain, France, Germany, and Portugal introduced the new text at a closed Security Council meeting in New York. U.N. diplomats said the new draft, which has strong U.S. backing, is aimed at winning more support for the resolution in the Security Council and avoiding a Russian veto.
In another development, the existence of a blogger who claimed to be a Syrian American lesbian came into question after a woman in Britain said photos circulating online were of her, not the blogger supposedly detained after weeks on the run in Damascus. A representative for Jelena Lecic said the London woman first learned her likeness was being used on the Facebook account of a blogger known as Amina Arraf.
Tunisia will hold an election Oct. 23, not July 24 as planned, because conditions are not yet right for the first vote since the January ouster of autocratic President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi said Wednesday.
Tunisia's fledgling experiment with democracy is being closely watched, because the popular uprising in the North African country sparked pro-democracy revolts around the Middle East.
Its electoral commission had proposed the delay, saying much more needed to be done to organize the vote, including putting three million Tunisians in an electoral database.
Those favoring the July date had said it was needed to bring political stability to the country
of 10 million. The vote
is for a constituent assembly to write a constitution that would pave the way for legislative and presidential elections.
- Associated Press