Crackdown reportedly widening in Jisr al-Shughur and surrounding villages, while troops deploy in east of the country.
|Syrians continue to flee towns in the north of the country as the crackdown on the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's one-party rule reportedly widens. |
Troops pushed towards the town of Maarat al-Numan after detaining hundreds of people in a sweep through villages near Jisr al-Shughur, the Reuters news agency reported on Tuesday, citing people who fled the area.
Residents streamed south towards Aleppo and to villages in the desert to the east, while some headed to neighbouring Turkey.
More than 8,000 Syrians have so far crossed the border with Turkey to escape the violence, and thousands are said to have gathered on the Syrian side of the border.
Activists said civilians had been killed in the crackdown.
"Six civilians perished in the past few hours in Ariha [east of Jisr al-Shughur]," an activist told the AFP news agency on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, fresh protests have erupted in the eastern town of Deir al-Zour, an activist said.
Rights campaigners said tanks and armoured vehicles have been deployed in the city, situated on the Euphrates river, and around the town of Abu Kamal to the east of Deir al-Zour city, on the border with Iraq.
A video posted on YouTube on Tuesday claimed to show soldiers who had defected in Deir al-Zour celebrating with protesters atop a military vehicle.
Several testimonies have emerged from soldiers who say they have left the army after being ordered to fire at civilians.
"Many defected from the army in order to protect the civilians. This happened previously in Deraa and Homs, and now, more evidently, it is happening in Jisr al-Shughur.
Al-Abdah said that almost a week ago, military officers began to notice that people from an armed group called Shabiha, which is alleged to be working with the Syrian security forces, had started wearing military uniforms.
"This caused huge resentment within the army because these paramilitary militias were committing atrocities against civilians," he said.
"We have strong evidence that indicates that the state security branch in Jisr al-Shughur defected from the main branch in Damascus, and there were severe clashes between the state security and the military intelligence in Jisr.
"This in itself is a very worrying development for the Syrian regime."
'Backing from Iran'
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan telephoned Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, on Tuesday, urging him to "refrain from violence and end the unrest", Turkey's Anatolia news agency reported.
Erdogan stressed "it would be useful to draw up a timetable of reforms as soon as possible and urgently implement them," the agency added.
Washington meanwhile accused Syria's ally Iran of backing the assaults on pro-democracy protesters and again urged Assad to end the violence.
"Iran is supporting the Assad regime's vicious assaults on peaceful protesters and military actions against its own cities," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
She compared its response to the Islamic republic's 2009 crackdown on its own pro-reform protests.
Syrian human rights activist Ammar Qurabi, at a Paris news conference, claimed the Iranians have sent guns and electric batons to Syrian authorities, and that Iranian computer experts were in Damascus hacking into activists' email and Facebook accounts.
According to a toll released on Tuesday by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the violence has claimed the lives of 1,297 civilians and 340 security force members in Syria since the unrest erupted mid-March.
Al Jazeera and agencies