Syrian troops seal restive northern town

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian tanks sealed a restive northern city Saturday, and activists said they expected an all-out government assault on the region near the Turkish border.

President Bashar Assad has sent heavy armor, 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 on Saturday 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.

Undaunted by the continuing and brutal crackdown, protests extended to every major city Friday, and activists said 36 people were killed when security forces opened fire during demonstrations across the country. The dead included 20 from the northern Idlib province, home to Jisr al-Shughour.

Twenty-five miles (40 kilometers) to the southeast in the town of Maaret al-Numan, thousands of protesters overwhelmed security forces and torched the courthouse and police station. The army responded with tank shells, a Syrian opposition figure told The Associated Press by telephone, speaking on condition of anonymity, fearing retribution.

Syrian TV appeared to confirm at least part of the report, saying gunmen opened fire on police stations, causing casualties among security officials.

Backed by helicopters and tanks, the troops responsible for most of Friday's violence were believed to be from an elite division commanded by Assad's younger brother, Maher. The decision to mobilize his unit against the most serious threats to the Assad regime could be a sign of concern about the loyalty of regular conscripts.

Syria's brutal crackdown has angered the leader of neighboring Turkey, who accused the Assad regime of "savagery."

A Turkish official at Altinozu on the Turkish side of the border said capacity was near full at the camp there and newcomers would be taken to a third camp at Boynuyogun. Workers on Saturday were putting the final touches to the camp there, welding fences around the camp and laying power lines.

"We don't expect the inflow to end rapidly. The news we are hearing is that there are more people waiting to get in on the other side," said UNHCR spokesman Metin Corabatir.

In an interview with Turkey's NTV television late Friday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would discuss events in Syria with Assad "in a very different way" after Turkey's general elections on Sunday. Erdogan has hardened his tone against the Syrian regime, accusing Maher on Thursday of "chasing after savagery."

Turkey has vowed to keep it's border open to fleeing refugees.

Confirming information out of Syria is difficult. Communications are cut in areas where the uprising is strongest. Syrians who speak openly face retribution from the regime, and foreign journalists have been expelled.


AP writer Selcan Hacaoglu contributed to this report from Boynuyogun Village, Turkey.

  • Look, don't touch: Flickr photo of the day 11 hours ago
    Look, don't touch: Flickr photo of the day

    If there's one car that's particularly sought-after among today's well-heeled car collectors, a Ferrari 250 would be it. Usually it's the GTO variant, like the 1963 that sold for a record $52 million last year. A 250 of any sorts demands unfathomable cash, however, which is why we can but gawk at this 250 Testa Rossa. It's as close as any mere mortal will ever come to owning one.

  • Peeling out at Octane Academy, the free driving school for Ford ST owners 12 hours ago
    Peeling out at Octane Academy, the free driving school for Ford ST owners

    Buyers of Ferraris or Jaguars are used to perks from manufacturers – including racetrack lessons to help master their exotic machines. But for enthusiasts on a tighter budget, the Ford ST Octane Academy might be the sweetest deal in motoring: Buy a Ford Fiesta ST or Focus ST hatchback, and the reward is a free day of training at one of America’s longest, most-lavish road courses.

  • Why you can't buy America's greenest car 15 hours ago
    Why you can't buy America's greenest car

    Ask me or any auto expert what's the fastest car you can buy for any given amount, and we could easily cough up several options. Same for most luxurious, or off-roadable, or any other measurement. Yet there's one type of question that's far harder to answer: What's the greenest, most environmentally friendly car you can buy today?

  • Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia
    Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia

    Armed pirates boarded a Singapore-managed oil tanker in the Strait of Malacca, kidnapping three Indonesian crew and stealing some of the vessel's shipment of diesel fuel, the International Maritime Bureau said Wednesday. The attack occurred early Tuesday off Malaysia's west coast, said Noel Choong, head of IMB's Kuala Lumpur-based piracy reporting centre. The diesel oil tanker was believed to be en route to Myanmar. "IMB is aware of the attack on the Singapore-managed ship in the Malacca Straits.

  • David Moyes statement after Man United firing
    David Moyes statement after Man United firing

    Statement released by David Moyes on Wednesday, a day after Manchester United announced he left as manager after less than a season in charge.

  • McDonald's Hello Kitty sale site temporarily suspended due to fresh wave of Kitty mania
    McDonald's Hello Kitty sale site temporarily suspended due to fresh wave of Kitty mania

    It may not be safe to enter a McDonald’s restaurant in Singapore on Mondays starting 28 April. To celebrate the iconic Japanese character Hello Kitty’s 40th anniversary, the fast food chain announced last Friday that it would be releasing a new collection of Hello Kitty toys in McDonald’s restaurants island wide next Monday.