Crackdown expected after attacks in Syria

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

BEIRUT -- Armed men killed 120 Syrian security forces and torched government buildings Monday in a northern region where troops have unleashed deadly assaults on protesters for days, Syria said. The government vowed to respond "decisively," hinting at an even more brutal crackdown by a regime known for crushing dissent.

If confirmed, the attack in the north would be a turning point in what so far has largely been a peaceful uprising threatening the 40-year rule of President Bashar Assad and his family.

Opposition activists were skeptical of the official casualty toll, saying the authorities were setting the stage for a new onslaught. But even they acknowledged there was fighting, although it was not clear who was involved.

Communications were cut to the area around Jisr al-Shughour on Monday and the details of the attack were impossible to verify, but there have been unconfirmed reports by activists and residents in the past of Syrians and even mutinous troops fighting back against security forces.

Adnan Mahmoud, the chief government spokesman, acknowledged that Syrian forces had lost control of some areas for "intermittent periods of time" and said residents had appealed to the army to do what was necessary to restore security.

"We will deal strongly and decisively, and according to the law, and we will not be silent about any armed attack that targets the security of the state and its citizens," said Interior Minister Ibrahim Shaar.

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