'Assad forces make sweeping arrests in Syria's northwest'

Rights activist says at least 300 people arrested daily, troops open fire on crowds at Maarat al-Numaan.

Syrian army tanks 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Omar Ibrahim)
Syrian army tanks 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Omar Ibrahim)
Syrian security forces on Thursday made sweeping arrests, stopping males over the age of 16 in the country's northwestern province, in a widening military campaign to crush protests against President Bashar Assad, the Associated Press reported quoting a Syrian human rights activist.
The activist, Mustafa Osso, told AP the arrests were mainly done in Jisr al-Shughour and surrounding areas, where the Syrian army has been deploying troops in what seems to be preparation for a new military operation.
RELATED:Tanks deploy in east Syria; residents flee northern townUN split over Syria sanctionsAnalysis: Making Israel the source of all trouble, againHe added that the number of people arrested daily in the area is at least 300.
Osso also said troops opened fire Thursday morning near Maarat al-Numaan, a town with some 100,000 people on the highway between Damascus and Aleppo. No casualties were reported yet.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said tanks, armored personnel vehicles and buses transported security forces to the area of Khan Sheikhon, south of Maarat al-Numaan.
Meanwhile, amid the widespread outcry against Syria over its bloody crackdown on protesters, Syria on Wednesday launched a media offensive to counter international criticism, AFP reported.
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 Near Jisr al-Shughour, officials showed groups of journalists a grave containing at least five bodies of dead security forces, according to AFP.
The remains were placed in yellow and orange body bags, and bulldozers surrounded what Syrian state television called "a new mass grave" found after security forces took over the town on Sunday.
The official SANA news agency was cited as reporting that armed groups mutilated the corpses of soldiers, countering reports by human rights activists saying those killed were unarmed protesters.