Syrian forces are widening a crackdown on dissenters in a region near the Turkish border, while the number of Syrians crossing into Turkey to flee the unrest continues to swell.
Activists Tuesday said Syrian troops are pushing into the town of Maaret al-Numan.
Over the past few days, security forces have swept through Jisr al-Shughour and nearby towns, after the government accused “armed groups” in Jisr al-Shughour of killing 120 security personnel.
Turkish officials say the number of Syrian refugees who have crossed into the country has topped 8,500. Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek Tuesday said nearly half of the refugees are children.
Also, Turkish news reports say Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan phoned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday and urged him to avoid violence and enact reforms.
On Monday, refugees reaching Turkey said Syrian forces were combing villages back home and arresting men between the ages of 18 and 40. Others told of a scorched-earth campaign with men in black uniforms pouring gasoline on farmlands.
The wave of arrests followed the assault on Jisr al-Shughour by troops backed by tanks and helicopter gunships. Residents say loyalist units led by President Assad's brother, Maher al-Assad, led Sunday's crackdown, which they say was sparked by a mutiny last week when some soldiers refused to shoot protesters and joined the anti-government side.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Tuesday it was clear that “Syria has taken a page out of Iran's playbook” by employing brutal tactics that Iran used after the disputed 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
He said the U.S. believes there is clear evidence that Iran is actively helping Syria as it clamps down on protesters.
Syria has banned most foreign journalists, making it difficult to verify accounts of events.
Rights groups say more than 1,300 people have been killed since President Assad launched a crackdown on anti-government dissent in March.