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Syrian troops seal restive northern city

Beirut: Syrian tanks sealed a restive northern city on Saturday, and activists said they expected an all—out government assault on the region near the Turkish border.

President Bashar Assad has sent heavy armour, including tanks, and thousands of troops to the region as he struggles to crush a nearly three—month uprising against his family’s 40—year rule.

Human rights groups say more than 1,300 people have died in the government crackdown.

The military operation in the mostly deserted town of Jisr al—Shughour is in response to what the government claims were attacks by “armed groups” that killed more than 120 officers and security personnel.

Refugees reaching Turkey said the chaos erupted as government forces and police mutinied and joined the local population against Assad forces.

Syrian state television today said army units arrested several leaders of the alleged armed groups in the area of Jisr al—Shughour, a city of about 40,000.

About 80 percent of the population has fled, with more than 4,000 Syrians taking sanctuary across the Turkish frontier.

Syrian troops backed by dozens of tanks have been operating in the area for several days, securing towns and villages on their way to Jisr al—Shughour.

Government forces reportedly have been in position for an attack on Jisr al—Shughour for about two days, and it was not clear what was delaying the army from entering the town.

City resident and activist Jamil Saeb, reached by phone, suggested the army was afraid to take on people still in the town because they “are known to be exceptionally fierce.”

He said several army deserters and officers were still in the town and have vowed to fight back and to protect the other, unarmed residents.

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