he Syrian government said Monday that armed protesters had killed 120 police and security officers in the northern town of Jisr al-Shughour, near the Turkish border. If true, this would amount to a significant escalation — up to now, there have only been isolated reports of pro-democracy demonstrators fighting back against security forces. Human rights groups say Syrian security forces have killed more than 1,000 people in an attempt to end an 11-week uprising. Has President Bashar al-Assad's brutal repression turned a peaceful protest movement into an armed rebellion? (Watch an Al Jazeera report about the situation.)
Yes, this could be the start of a civil war: Syria has reached a turning point, says James M. Dorsey at Al Arabiya. Assad is preparing what will surely be a violent response, calling the rival fighters terrorists, and describing the incident a massacre. Whatever he does next is bound to "constitute a dramatic escalation," and that will only speed up the transformation of "peaceful mass anti-government protests into an armed insurrection."
"Syrian protests becoming armed revolt?"
The armed protesters were criminals, not freedom fighters: The population in Jisr al-Shughour isn't rebelling, says the state-controlled Syrian Arab News Agency. In fact, the police officers who were "martyred" were rushing to respond to calls for help from civilians being terrorized by these thugs. The government has the right and the duty to stamp out these "armed gangs," because they are threatening "the security of the homeland and citizens."
"120 police and security forces personnel martyred by armed gangs in Jisr al-Shughour"
Assad just wants an excuse to slaughter protesters: The regime has been "murdering non-combatants for weeks now, with everything from tanks to snipers," says Merv Benson at Prairie Pundit. It's hard to believe the opposition suddenly acquired enough weapons to successfully ambush a government goon squad. Assad probably invented the story as "a pretext for further massacres" against his people.
"Syria threatens city they claim fought back against government"
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