120 police killed in ambush by Syrian protesters
AT least 120 policemen were killed in an ambush in northern Syria, the authorities claimed yesterday, as anti-regime protesters increasingly turn to violence.
State television reported that "armed groups" had attacked security positions in the restive town of Jisr al-Shughour, burning down government buildings and carrying out a "veritable massacre".
"The state will act firmly, with force and in line with the law. It will not stay arms folded in the face of armed attacks on the security of the homeland," said Mohammed Ibrahim al-Shaar, the interior minister.
The claims come after Syrian forces used helicopter gunships and armoured vehicles mounted with machineguns against protesters in the town over the weekend, killing at least 25 and 13 more in nearby villages.
Opposition activists said protesters remained committed to a "non-violent" revolution against Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president. But some privately conceded that it was becoming harder to stop people taking up arms.
More than 1,100 protesters are said to have died in the three months since the uprising began against Mr Assad, one of the Arab world's most autocratic leaders.
At least 30 of those killed have been children, activists say, among them 13-year-old Hamza el-Khatib who was allegedly tortured to death in custody. His death has reinvigorated the protest movement, with demonstrations attracting unprecedented numbers.
There have been increasingly frequent reports of protesters fighting back against the security forces, despite being outgunned.
Protesters in the city of Hama last week burned down the local headquarters of Mr Assad's Ba'ath party and later used hunting rifles against the security forces after they came under fire.
The battle was a mismatch, with dozens of protesters killed, but it may have marked a turning point in the campaign to oust Mr Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for 40 years.
"Most of the protesters remain peaceful and they are determined not to fight force with force," said an opposition activist.
"But some have been fighting back."
Meanwhile, Israel yesterday accused Mr Assad of encouraging unrest on the ceasefire line in the Golan Heights in an attempt to save his government.
"It may be something that the Syrians are encouraging, they may think it distracts attention," said Ehud Barak, the defence minister.
Syrian state television said 23 people were killed on Sunday by Israeli gunfire. The Israeli army said there were 10 dead, all killed by a Syrian landmine. (© Daily Telegraph, London)