Syrian forces thrust into region near Turkey to pursue army defectors

Syrian forces thrust into region near Turkey to pursue army defectors

Releads with opposition arrests

Syrian security and military forces intensified a house-to-house arrest campaign in the north-western province of Idlib on Wednesday, hunting down army defectors, according to opposition activists, dpa reported.

The military operations in the Jabal al-Zawiya region of Idlib have led to the detention of scores of pro-democracy protesters, broadcaster Al Jazeera reported.

"No village in Jabal al-Zawiya is immune to the army's operations," an activist called Alaa Youssef told the Doha-based television station.

"Nobody can enter or leave the region, which is encircled from all sides. The operation mainly targets defectors," he added.

Al Jazeera quoted other activists as saying that tanks shelled ten villages in Jabal al-Zawiya amid heavy gunfire. There were no immediate reports about possible casualties.

An unspecified number of people were killed in Jabal al-Zawiya and at least three in the central cities of Homs and Hama, according to the Facebook page of the Local Coordination Committees (LCC), a network of anti-government activists.

It also reported that Syrian security forces made mass arrests in the districts of Bab al-Sabaa and Karam al-Zeitoun in the restive city of Homs.

Communications were cut in Jabal al-Zawiya and the town of Kafr Nabl in Idlib province, said LCC spokesman Omar Idlibi.

Idlibi, who lives in Lebanon, told the German Press Agency dpa that Syrian security forces also stormed a refugee camp in the town of Kherbet al-Jawz near the Turkish border, where they arrested dozens of people and burned their cars.

Footage posted on the internet showed what activists described as military reinforcements heading to Jabal al-Zawiya.

In another development Wednesday, Syria firmly rejected a statement from Arab foreign ministers on the country's crisis, state news agency SANA reported.

"The Syrian Ambassador (to Cairo) Youssef Ahmed has rejected the statement altogether and viewed it as a hostile act and an unconstructive move in handling the crisis in Syria," SANA wrote.

The Arab League foreign ministers called Tuesday on the Syrian government to immediately end bloodshed in the country.

Ending a meeting in Cairo, the ministers also urged Syria to begin a dialogue with the opposition, instead of resorting to violence.

Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi said the organization would not send a fact-finding mission, approved by the Syrians, until the bloodshed ended.

Meanwhile, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdul Rahman, told dpa by phone from London that three pro-government followers were killed Wednesday in the area of Burj, north-east of Hama.

"Shortly after the three men were killed by unknown assailants, tensions intensified in the area. Syrian security forces entered the area and carried out a wide-scale search and arrested several people," he said.

Late Tuesday, Syrian security forces attacked a mourning ceremony held for human rights activist Ghiath Matar in the Damascus suburb of Daraya, after foreign envoys had offered their condolences and left, opposition activists said Wednesday.

Activists allege that Matar was tortured to death in detention, after his arrest on September 5.

Two uncles of Matar were arrested Wednesday in Daraya, according to unconfirmed reports.

News from Syria is hard to verify as the government has barred most foreign media and human rights organizations from the country since pro-democracy protests erupted in March.

An estimated 2,600 people have been killed since protests started in Syria in mid-March, according to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

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