AMMAN (Reuters) – Thousands of Syrians fled the historic town of Maarat Al Numaan on Wednesday to escape troops and tanks pushing into the north in a widening military campaign to crush protests against President Bashar Assad.
In the tribal east, where Syria’s 380,000 barrels per day of oil is produced, tanks and armoured vehicles deployed in the city of Deir Al Zor and around Albu Kamal on the border with Iraq, a week after tens of thousands of people took to the streets there demanding an end to Assad’s rule.
“Cars are continuing to stream out of Maarat Al Numaan in all directions,” one witness told Reuters by phone. “People are loading them with everything: blankets and mattresses on roofs.”
Syrian forces pushed towards the town of 100,000, which straddles the main north-south highway linking Damascus with Syria’s second city Aleppo, after arresting hundreds of people in villages close to Jisr Al Shughour, near the border with Turkey, residents said.
The state news agency SANA said an army crackdown in Jisr Al Shughour, where the government said 120 security personnel were killed earlier this month, had restored security there and thousands of people were returning.
It also said the army had found a second mass grave in the town containing the bodies of soldiers and police killed by “armed terrorist groups”.
Witnesses said the fighting broke out when residents and deserting security forces attacked a police compound in Jisr Al Shughour about 10 days ago after police killed 48 people.
They said 60 police, including 20 deserters, were killed.