The Syrian army on Thursday sent further troop reinforcements to the northwestern province of Idlib, where activists said they fear an assault similar to the one that devastated the Baba Amro neighborhood of Homs, as Turkey said it was opposed to any force from outside the region intervening in Syria.
As many as 62 people have been killed by the fire of Syrian troops across the country, activists at the Syrian Local Coordination Committees told Al Arabiya.
Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the troop buildup appeared to indicate a major military operation was imminent given reports in the official press of “armed terrorist groups” in the region.
Milad Fadl, a member of the opposition Syrian Revolution General Commission, said tanks and troops were deploying heavily around the Jabal al-Zawiya district of the province.
“Large numbers of residents from eight villages in that area have fled,” Fadl told AFP, adding that residents of the city of Idlib itself were also leaving.
“The government troops have asked members of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) to surrender their weapons through messages on mosque loudspeakers or through local officials,” Fadl said.
“I expect the army to first storm Idlib and then decide from there what to do.”
He said one civilian was “executed” Thursday in Jabal al-Zawiya and five homes were burned down to punish the local population for supporting the rebel fighters.
There are concerns that Idlib, a mountainous province near the Turkish border, could suffer the same fate as Baba Amro which was stormed by government troops on March 1 after a month-long blitz.
Idlib is considered strategically important because of the presence of a large number of FSA members, particularly in the Jabal al-Zawiya area.
Abdul Rahman told AFP that clashes were taking place on Thursday between security forces and rebel fighters in the Idlib village of Kfar Nabal.
On Wednesday, the opposition Syrian National Council appealed to the international community and the Arab League to act urgently at all levels to avoid any repetition of what happened in Baba Amro.
Refusing non-Arab interference
Turkish President Abdullah Gul said on Thursday his country was opposed to any force from outside the region intervening in Syria, but warned that no government could survive by using violence against its people.
Gul’s comments came during a visit to Tunisia, which has also called on Assad to step down but has opposed any foreign military intervention to end the year-long crisis that has claimed more than 7,500 lives.
Speaking at a joint news conference at a presidential palace overlooking the Mediterranean, both Gul and Tunisian President Moncef al-Marzouki urged an end to the violence.
“Turkey is against the intervention by any force which is from outside the region. Such an intervention could be subject to exploitation,” Gul said, without elaborating, according to Reuters.
“It is not possible for any regime to go on through the use of violence and ... dictatorship... The decision to use the armed forces against the people has transformed the issue... into one of international interest,” he said.
Turkey, a Muslim member of NATO with the second largest army in the alliance, has been coordinating closely with the Arab League to forge a regional response to the Syrian crisis.
Gul’s comments echo concerns among some Arab countries that foreign intervention in Syria, located at the heart of the Middle East, could complicate and prolong the conflict.
Marzouki said Tunisia would be willing to send forces to Syria as part of an Arab peacekeeping operation mooted at the first “Friends of the Syrian People” conference, which the North African country hosted last month, but warned against military intervention.
Marzouki, who has offered Assad asylum in Tunisia as part of an effort to end the violence quickly, said the best solution remained a negotiated exit for the Syrian leader followed by a transition to democracy.
“What we need now is to continue political efforts, especially with our Russian and Chinese friends as they can play a role in convincing the Syrian regime that this game is over,” Marzouki said.
Russia and China have blocked all efforts at U.N. Security Council action against Syria, where Assad has sought to crush a revolt that began with peaceful protest but has increasingly turned into an armed rebellion.
Turkey, a powerful northern neighbor of Syria and once a close ally, has been at the forefront of efforts to nurture the Syrian opposition since abandoning Assad, hosting the opposition Syrian National Council and sheltering members of the Free Syrian Army.