POSTED: 12:06 a.m. HST, Jun 11, 2011
BEIRUT — The Syrian army has begun operations in a restive northern town near the Turkish border, deploying troops and tanks to the outskirts, the government and a reporter accompanying troops said Friday.
Syrian state television said the operation aims to restore security in Jisr al-Shughour, where authorities say 120 officers and security personnel were killed by "armed groups" last week.
Reports of an imminent army operation and soldiers backed by tanks headed to the area have prompted an exodus of refugees to Turkey.
A reporter accompanying troops said dozens of tanks were on the outer edges of Jisr al-Shughour, ready to enter. He said the army announced the start of the operations at around 5 a.m. Friday.
Syrian TV said the operation to "liberate" the town from "armed gangs" came in response to the appeals of residents who were terrorized by the groups. Witnesses, however, have said Syrian policemen turned their guns on each other, and soldiers shed their uniforms rather than obey orders to fire on protesters.
The military operations are part of a crackdown on a three-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for more than 40 years.
Human rights groups say more than 1,300 people have died in the crackdown on the 11-week uprising, most of them unarmed civilians. A government spokeswoman countered that a total of 500 security forces had died in the revolt.
About 2,700 Syrian refugees have crossed into Turkey since the uprising began, with most fleeing in the last two days.