Reporting from Beirut — Syrian state television claimed Monday that 120 members of the nation's security forces were killed by armed groups in recent days in a report that said the government was prepared to "deal firmly and sternly" with any such attacks against its rule.
The broadcast cited no sources and offered no footage to verify the report of a "massacre" by gunmen at a police station in the restive northwest city of Jisr Shughur, the site of weeks of ongoing clashes between security forces loyal to President Bashar Assad and pro-democracy protesters inspired by revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.
"The gunmen in Jisr Shughur are heavily armed with medium weapons and hand grenades, and they use the residents as human shields," said a caption on state television. "The security forces and police surround the gunmen who entrenched in a number of houses in Jisr Shughur and started to open fire on military personnel and civilians."
The report could not be independently confirmed; Syria has blocked international media from direct access to the ongoing uprising against Assad's decades-old authoritarian regime.
Syrian democracy activists said dozens of protesters and bystanders, including children, have been killed in the city near the border with Turkey in recent days. Human rights monitors and international observers say security forces have killed at least 1,100 protesters and jailed and tortured thousands more in an attempt to quell a three-month uprising sparked by the detention and alleged torture of a group of teenagers accused of writing political graffiti.
Activists say Syrian officials have begun launching helicopter attacks on rebellious cities. State television suggested more violence ahead.
"The state will deal firmly and sternly and according to the law, and it will not remain silent on armed attacks that target the security of the homeland and citizens," state television quoted an Interior Ministry official as saying.
The numbers of security officers reportedly killed in attacks at Jisr Shughur cited by state television escalated throughout the day, from 28 to 40 to 120. The government has been struggling to control the flow of information in and out of the country.
A loosely organized network of activists, meanwhile, has proved adept at smuggling amateur video footage documenting alleged massacres by Syrian security forces, including scenes of gunfire and bloodied corpses, out of the country via the Internet and onto satellite television channels, circumventing the regime's media restrictions.