Testimonies from defected soldiers give a dramatic insight into the split apparently emerging in the security forces.
Hugh Macleod and Annasofie Flamand
"The escalating military offensive in northwest Syria began after what corroborating accounts said was a shoot-out between members of the military secret police in Jisr al-Shughur, some of whom refused to open fire on unarmed protesters.
A growing number of first-hand testimonies from defected soldiers give a rare but dramatic insight into the cracks apparently emerging in Syria’s security forces as the unrelenting assault on unarmed protesters continues.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Turkey, having crossed the border on Friday night, an activist based in Jisr al-Shughur and trusted by experienced local reporters described how a funeral on June 4 for a man shot dead by plain-clothes security a day earlier grew into a large anti-government protest.
"As the demonstration passed the headquarters of the military secret police they opened fire right away and killed eight people," the activist, who was among the crowd, said. "But some of the secret police refused to open fire and there were clashes between them. It was complete chaos."
The following day the activist and others went back to the military police building having heard explosions coming from the area the evening before. They found dozens of bodies, including that of the military police chief, identified by his ID card.
All foreign media is banned from reporting in Syria so it is impossible to verify the account firsthand, though it tallies with other testimonies from residents of the area that clashes between security forces had taken place.
Since then, President Bashar al-Assad has poured dozens of tanks and thousands of troops into northwest Syria, with the military, thought to be led by Assad’s brother Maher, vowing to "restore security" after it said 120 security men were killed in Jisr al-Shughur by "armed gangs."
However, state-run Syria TV admitted that gunmen "in military uniform" were responsible for the killing of the 120 security personnel, with SANA, the official news agency, claiming the assailants had stolen the uniforms and that residents were now pleading for the army to intervene.
"It’s the regime using violence"
Eyewitness accounts painted a very different picture. "It’s tragic. They have burned down all the crops and the villagers are fleeing," said a resident of Jisr al-Shughur who fled on Friday with four people injured by the military assault, heading to the Turkish border. He said he had witnessed the army opening fire on fleeing villagers with machine guns.
Turkish officials said more than 4,000 Syrians have now crossed into Turkey, whose prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said President Assad, whom he once described as a "brother," had acted with "savagery" against his own people. "All the accusations of residents sheltering gangs are false," a Jisr al-Shughur resident said. "And we never asked the army for help or to enter our town. It is them firing on us."......"