Syrian Officials Show Reporters Site Of Fatal Attack
Syrian officials have finally allowed a small group of Western journalists into the country amid anti-government demonstrations. NPR's Deborah Amos was among those taken to the city of Jisr al-Shughour, where Syrian officials say armed gangs staged a massacre.
Jisr al-Shughour has come to define the conflict and the contradictions in Syria, where President Bashar Assad has been unable to crush a months-long rebellion by force. More than 100 security personnel died here, and some 12,000 residents fled for safety to the Turkish border, 25 miles away. The question is, what really happened?
Syrian officials say an armed gang of about 5,000 men took over the city to create an Islamic state in Syria. Residents of Jisr al-Shughour say there were two groups — peaceful protesters and armed men. But so far, the government and the army have made little distinction between them.
Government escorts and translators tell their version of the events in Jisr al-Shughour, presenting to journalists what they say are witnesses to an attack on the post office. The next stop is the military intelligence building, which is scorched and gutted, with smears of dried blood covering the walls. Hisham Masri, who heads the municipality, says "every person in this base" was killed.
The courthouse is also badly damaged, the bottom floor filled with rubble and dust. The Syrian escorts tell the journalists that this is where the armed groups placed bombs that burned court records and loan records.
Jisr al-Shughour is still mainly empty; only a few hundred people are on the streets in a city of more than 75,000.
Hamid Teljou, 55, says he never left. But his family fled to Turkish refugee camps, and he calls them and begs them to come home. He says his wife of 20 years had never disobeyed him — but she defied him when she ran for the border with their children.
"My kids were afraid of the Syrian army," Teljou says. The army's tanks rolled in after the clashes, and swept all the way to the border after the security police were killed.
Teljou's wife saw what happened and feared that the Syrian army would take revenge and kill everyone in the city.
The army is still on high alert in the north, with checkpoints along the road. Officials say residents have started to trickle back — around 750 have come from the camps in Turkey. In the outdoor market, where some shops have opened again, a couple offers a quick comment to reporters while the government escorts are down the block.
The woman, who declines to give her name, says there was a protest movement here — "salmeyah,"or peaceful, the woman says — that grew in numbers each week.
Her husband says people left because they were afraid of the army assault against the armed gangs — afraid they would be caught in the crossfire.
The couple hurries along when boys on the street nearby start to chant "God, Syria and Bashar."
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