Syria: What happened at Jisr al-Shugour?

A few days ago a battle took place in the northern Syrian town of Jisr al-Shugour that drove refugees into Turkey for the first time since the uprising started and was possibly a first sign of defection or mutiny from the security services. From the Economist:

An accurate version of what happened there is hard to confirm, because independent reporters are banned from Syria and the state media have plumbed the depths of mendacity. Usually, however, they flag up an event and give an indication, sometimes unintentionally, of its magnitude. Then they set about rearranging the facts. In the case of Jisr al-Shughour, they at first said that 20 members of the security forces had been killed in an ambush “by armed gangs” and then, within an hour, raised the figure to 120, declaring that “decisive” action would be taken as part of the state’s duty to protect its citizens. Probably the death toll has indeed been high.
But who killed whom remains unclear. Theories abound. Residents say people have been fighting back after helicopters and tanks killed at least 40 civilians during the weekend. Tanks have been massing menacingly around the city. But well-informed Syrians surmise that the number of dead servicemen was exaggerated in an effort to make ordinary people rally to the regime and that most of the victims were killed in clashes between the police and the army or within some security-force units after their members tried to defect or to mutiny—the last two possibilities being the ones that must really scare Mr Assad.
Compare with the version from SANA, the official government news agency:
The Syrian TV broadcast photos of the brutal massacres perpetrated by organized armed terrorist groups against the civilians and the army, police and security forces groups in Jisr al-Shughour in the province of Idleb.
Members of the terrorist groups used government cars and military uniform to commit their crimes of killing, terrifying people and sabotaging.
More of the same here, including gory pics.
Update: Also see this excellent narrative piece in Harpers, The Two Homs.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.