The battle for Jisr al-Shaghour

During the ongoing ‘military operation’ in the northwestern town of Jisr al-Shaghour, an Associated Press reporter said he discovered a mass grave during a government-organised media visit to the city.

The reporter said he found evidence of how serious the uprising in the town had been when he encountered a grave containing the bodies of several uniformed officers and a burnt-out police station.

The battle in Jisr al-Shaghour has by all accounts been one of the bloodiest episodes so far in the three-month uprising in Syria. Army sources have said about 120 soldiers and security forces have been killed, raising the number rapidly from an initial report of 40 deaths.

But local residents quoted in foreign media have refuted the claims, saying instead that the troops were killed in a firefight when a number of soldiers defected and fought those who remained loyal to the government. The claims were strongly denied and condemned by Syrian authorities and official media.

According to local media reports, government forces who took control of the city in a massive military push on Sunday morning ‘liberated’ the main hospital, which had been under the control of anti-government forces.

An Al-Watan reporter in the city said no civilians were killed in the Sunday assault, but one soldier was killed and four injured. The reporter said army sources told him a “major arms dealer who had been organising the terrorists” was arrested in Ma’arat al-Nu’man near Jisr al-Shaghour.

Ma’arat al-Nu’man was reportedly the scene of the first use of helicopter gunships by the Syrian army in the uprising. The army told SANA it had not used helicopters to fire on the town’s residents, adding that the helicopters were there to airlift injured civilians to safety.

Following the fighting in Jisr al-Shaghour yesterday, locals told Al-Watan the fighters had fled to Turkey to “find their families”, in an apparent reference to the over 5,000 refugees who have crossed the border in the past few days. Many thousands are expected to be camping in the hills between the town and the Turkish border.

Dozens of accounts relayed to journalists by the refugees in southern Turkey, which suggest the Syrian army has been pursuing a “scorched earth” policy in Idleb province, where Jisr al-Shaghour is, are not true according to the reports of Syrian journalists accompanying the military in the area.

Instead, one journalist wrote, farmers have harvested their crops for the first time in weeks, and traders are selling their produce at markets across the region.

Committee reports back from Dera’a investigation

The committee tasked with investigating violent deaths in several Syrian cities including Dera’a, the birthplace of the uprising, has said it is continuing to investigate two officials accused of serious abuses.

Two judges from the committee told Syria TV that Faisal Khulthum, former governor of Dera’a, and Atef Najib, the former head of the security in the southern province, have been issued with travel bans following their involvement in the violence that swept the region beginning in mid-March.

The judges also said that “there is no longer immunity for anyone whose crimes are proven.”

The statement seems to suggest the committee has limited powers to restrict freedom of movement of persons under investigation, but cannot press for criminal charges, which the judges said is the responsibility of the attorney general

Syria Today (Syria)