Syrian media report 123 security force members killed (UPDATE)
Releads with minister statement, updates death toll (first version posted at 23:03)
The Syrian state will deal harshly with armed attacks on security forces, which have killed up to 123 policemen in an area in the northwestern province of Idlib, Syria's Interior Minister said Monday, dpa reported.
"We will not be silent" about attacks against the state, Ibrahim Shaar said in a statement broadcast on Syrian state television.
A Syrian government source told Syrian television that the death toll might reach 123.
Syrian television said armed groups in the town of Jisr al-Shaghur, in Idlib, attacked a security post and set fire to government buildings.
The Syrian military has been attacking the town of Jisr al-Shaghur since last week as part of a crackdown to halt the uprising against the regime of President Bashar Assad, which began in mid-March.
Hundreds of armed "terrorists and thugs" had taken over several areas of Jisr al-Shaghur and were targeting security forces and civilians, Syrian television reported.
The government has repeatedly blamed foreign infiltrators and terrorists for the unrest in the country.
Using machine guns, grenades, and other weapons, the gunmen stormed a security forces building in Jisr al-Shaghur, killing more than 37 members of the security forces, according to state news agency SANA.
Three security personnel were killed in similar attacks on government buildings in the area.
An attack on a police convoy reportedly left at least 20 policemen dead.
Separately, eight security guards were reportedly killed in an attack on a post office building in the city using explosive gas canisters.
Snipers belonging to the armed groups took up positions on top of several buildings in Jisr al-Shaghur, according to SANA. Security forces surrounded several homes where members of the armed groups were allegedly hiding.
State media reported residents were asking the military to intervene to protect them. However, activists in Jisr al-Shaghur said security forces were using tanks and hand grenades to attack civilians, regional broadcaster Al Arabiya reported.
Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that at least 40 people were killed in Idlib province on Sunday as security forces continued operations against protesters in the area.
Demonstrations calling for al-Assad's ouster and an end to violent government crackdowns on protesters were held in various parts of the country Monday, including the cities of Talbisa and Hama. A general strike continued for the third day in Hama, the Syrian Revolution group said online.
European Union Foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton renewed her condemnation of the crackdown by Syrian security forces.
"I condemn the continued brutality and violence in Syria. I deplore the increasing loss of life caused by the Syrian authorities' policy of repression rather than dialogue," Ashton said.
"I am gravely concerned about reports of torture and other violence being used against family members, including children, as a means to silence activists," she said.
Political freedoms are heavily curtailed in Syria, where the Ba'ath Party has been in power since 1963.
Al-Assad, who inherited his post after his father's death in 2000, faces rising public anger and international sanctions as the death toll grows.