Syrians in the northwest town of Jisr al-Shughour are braced for possible retribution for what the government says was a massacre there of 120 soldiers and policemen.
Some residents have fled the town, seeking safety in neighboring villages, while others have crossed the nearby border to Turkey.
Those who remain have posted social networking messages saying they fear a violent crackdown after the government vowed to use force against what it called armed gangs.
With the town largely cut off and no foreign journalists allowed in Syria, accounts are very difficult to verify. The government says gunmen ambushed security forces outside the town and killed dozens of others in separate attacks Monday.
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Information minister Adnan Mahmoud accused the "armed gangs" of using residents as human shields during the incident.
He said the army will "restore security and peace of mind" to the residents.
Some protesters in the area deny that any in their movement carry arms. Others acknowledge that some have weapons, but use them only in self-defense, while still others argue that peaceful protests should be abandoned as they are no match against the government crackdown.
Human rights groups believe more than 1,000 people have been killed in the protests. Yet another version of events being circulated in the vacuum of hard evidence is the possibility of a failed army mutiny.
Accounts are emerging that some soldiers refused to open fire on demonstrators, and were in turn shot for disobeying orders. Again, this account is impossible to verify.
While the Syrian government has previously accused "terrorists" and "foreign elements" of fomenting the popular uprising, this is by far the largest number of casualties it has blamed on armed elements, causing increased alarm among government opponents.
The Syrian government has closed ranks as it comes under criticism by other nations, including the United States and the European Union.
France says it will seek a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the three-month crackdown, while Syrian activists hope to convince the International Criminal Court to investigate the government for possible crimes against humanity.