The Syrian government says 80 police officers were killed Monday from an attack and gunbattle in the northwestern part of the country, where anti-government protests have raged for days.
State media blamed “armed gangs” for Monday's deaths in the town of Jisr al-Shughour and called the incident an “ambush.” The government has continued to raise the death toll throughout the day and vows to respond “firmly and decisively.”
Syrian rights groups say earlier, at least 35 people, including six security force members, died in Jisr al-Shughour and in nearby Khan Sheikhoun Saturday and Sunday during a government crackdown on people demonstrating against President Bashar al-Assad.
The reports cannot be independently confirmed as the Syrian government has severely restricted the media and expelled foreign reporters.
The clashes over the weekend began after thousands of residents turned out for the funerals of other anti-government protesters killed in the crackdown.
In the central city of Hama, residents and activists say the Syrian military withdrew Sunday. Similar reports came from southern villages, although sources say the situation in those areas remains tense.
Rights campaigners say at least 65 people died Friday, mostly in Hama. Witnesses say security forces used live ammunition to disperse tens of thousands of protesters who took to the streets after Friday prayers, demanding Mr. Assad's resignation.
Syrian activists have been protesting almost daily since March for democratic reforms and an end to President Assad's 11-year rule.
Rights groups say at least 1,100 people have been killed in the continuing crackdown and more than 10,000 arrested.
Despite official denials, protest organizers say at least 25 children are among the dead. The victims include a 13-year-old boy who was reported to have been tortured and killed by security forces – an accusation Syrian authorities dispute.