Azerbaijan , Baku, Sept. 27 / Trend A. Isgandarov/
Syrian forces backed by tanks and helicopters stormed into the central town of Rastan on Tuesday to crush army deserters who are fighting back after months of mostly peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad, residents said.
Dozens of armored vehicles entered the town of 40,000, which lies on the highway to Turkey near the city of Homs, after tanks and helicopters pounded it with heavy machineguns through the hours of darkness, Reuters reported.
"Tanks closed in on Rastan overnight and the sound of machineguns and explosions has been non-stop. They finally entered this morning," said a resident named Abu Qassem.
Hundreds of soldiers who have refused orders to fire on protesters have formed the Khaled Bin al-Walid battalion, named after the Arab conqueror of Syria, in Rastan. The force, led by Captain Abdelrahman Sheikh, has some tanks. Colonel Riad al-Assad, the most senior military defector, is active in the area.
Faced with expanding street protests demanding an end to 41 years of Assad family rule, the president has sent troops and tanks into cities and towns across the country.
The military crackdown has killed at least 2,700 people, including 100 children, according to the United Nations.
Syrian authorities say 700 police and army have been killed during the unrest which they blame on "terrorists" and "mutineers."
Assad has said foreign powers are using the unrest to divide Syria, and added any state would use similar techniques to end a revolt.