syria - AP - April 27 2011
Syrian military police carry a coffin preparing to send the bodies of six killed soldiers and security force members to their hometowns for burial, Damascus, Syria, April 27, 2011. Photo by AP
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Syria's government claimed 120 policemen were killed in an ambush and gunbattle with armed men in the tense northern town of Jisr al-Shughour where the army has carried out deadly operations against protesters. The attack follows deadly clashes over the weekend in which dozens were killed.

"Martyrs from security (forces) and police were killed in an ambush by armed gangs in Jisr al-Shughour. They were on their way to answer a call for aid from civilians terrorized in Jisr al-Shughour," the television said.

State TV first said twenty security forces were dead, then later said a further eight were killed when gunmen blew up the town's post office. The figure was soon updated to forty, then eighty, then a hundred-twenty casualties.

"The armed groups are using weapons and grenades ... the people in Jisr al-Shughour are urging the army to intervene speedily," said the Syrian state television report. It said earlier that security forces had clashed with hundreds of gunmen who had set up blockades in the town.

The government promised a decisive response, setting the stage for an even stronger government crackdown against a popular uprising that began in mid-March and poses the most potent threat in years to the 40-year regime of the Assad family.

The state television report said armed groups in the area carried out a massacre. It said the groups ambushed police and security forces, blew up the post office, torched government buildings and mutilated bodies. Thirty-seven were killed at a security post, the report said.

There was no independent confirmation of the claims. Human rights activist Mustafa Osso cast doubt on the government accounts. "The protesters have so far been peaceful and unarmed," he said.

Osso said there were unconfirmed reports of a few army deserters who switched sides and were fighting security forces. These reports stated that the security forces were killed by other government forces when they refused to fire upon demonstrators and tried to desert their posts and escape to Turkey.

Activists said Sunday that at least 37 residents of the town have been killed since Saturday during a military operation to crush opposition to President Bashar al-Assad's 11-year rule.

One Syrian rights group said Sunday that the death toll up until that point had gone up to at least 45. The figure included 35 civilians and 10 soldiers and police. The operation was part of a crackdown that began Saturday and continued on Sunday.

Syria's state-run news agency, SANA, said "armed criminal groups" attacked several police stations in Jisr al-Shughour, killing two policeman. It said the attackers captured weapons from the stations. The Syrian government blames armed gangs and religious extremists for the violence.

The Local Coordination Committees says at least 1,270 people have been killed and more than 10,000 arrested across the country since the uprising began in March.