'Syrian security forces take over Maarat al-Numaan'

Protesters name latest day of protests "Day of Saleh al-Ali" in reference to Alawite leader who led uprising against the French in 20th century.

Syrian soldiers leaving Deraa 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Syrian soldiers leaving Deraa 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Syrian security forces on Friday took over the northwestern city of Maarat al-Numaan, days after laying siege to it, the Associated Press reported citing local activists.
Rights activist Mustafa Osso told AP that large numbers of soldiers backed by tanks and helicopter gunships entered the town, but it was not immediately clear if there were any casualties in the operation.
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Omar Idilbi of the Local Coordination Committees which monitors anti-government protests in Syria said that soldiers were in full control of the town.
A Syrian military official was quoted by the official SANA news agency as saying the army has amassed troops near Maarat al-Numaan and Khan Sheikhon to prevent "armed terrorist organizations" from blocking highway between Aleppo and Damascus.
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The Maarat al-Numaan operation comes as opposition groups have called for protests on Friday throughout the country, saying it was the "The Day of Saleh al-Ali," in reference to an Alawite leader who led an uprising agains the French in the 20th century.
Opposition groups have been naming each Friday since the uprising began 13 weeks ago, but according to AP, using the name of an Alawite leader was meant to show that opponents to Assad were not revolting over secular concerns.
Alawite dominance of Syria under the Assad regime has triggered resentment in the country, which Assad has tried to mitigate by encourage a "strictly secular identity in Syria," AP said. However, the Syrian President now seems to be depending on his Alawite support to clamp down on the resistance, according to the report.