Syria’s army is continuing operations in several locations, as the country’s leadership is facing increasing pressure to end its bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters.
Activists said the military stormed the town of Sirmeen in the northern Idlib province on Tuesday morning.
The Local Co-ordination Committees said the town was attacked from three sides, with troops carrying out house raids and arbitrary arrests.
Tanks were also deployed in and around the city of Idlib, following big demonstrations there, the activists said.
On the diplomatic front, Turkey said it had sent its foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, to Damascus to
press the Syrian leadership into ending the violent crackdown on demonstrations.
Meanwhile, footage was posted online, purportedly showing troops assaulting the town of Albu Kamal, near the Iraqi border, on Monday. The video showed soldiers firing tanks, using rocket launchers and Kalashnikovs against an unseen enemy.
Opposition sources said up to seven people had been shot dead by security forces on Monday at a funeral in the southern city of Deraa, the cradle of the five-month uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.
The funeral was for a youth who had been arrested earlier this week when he took part in a protest. His body was handed to relatives on Monday with visible signs of torture, according to relatives.
Rami Abdul Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said one of the dead was Maen Yousef Awadat, a leading political campaigner, who had recently been released from prison.
Deir ez-Zor besieged
In the east of the country, the army maintained its siege of the city of Deir ez-Zor, reportedly shelling at least one neighbourhood.
“Armoured vehicles are shelling the al-Hawiqa district heavily with their guns. Private hospitals are closed and people are afraid to send the wounded to state facilities because they are infested with secret police,” Mohammad, a resident who did not want to give his full name, told Reuters news agency.
He said at least 65 people had been killed since tanks and armoured vehicles entered the provincial capital on Sunday.Al Jazeera could not independently verify the reports since most foreign journalists have been barred from entering Syria.
Activists say at least 1,700 people have been killed since the uprising began.
Assad’s government disputes the toll and blames a foreign conspiracy for the unrest. But those claims have been dismissed by most of the international community, with world leaders ramping up its condemnation of the security forces’ actions in recent days.
India’s UN ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri told reporters the three countries would be “calling for restraint, abjuring violence, [and] promoting reform, taking into account the democratic aspirations of the people.”
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain on Monday recalled their ambassadors from Damascus amid mounting pressure from the Arab world.
Qatar withdrew its ambassador from Damascus and closed its embassy in July after Assad loyalists attacked the embassy compound.
Besides Turkey, India, Brazil and South Africa were also sending envoys to Syria to appeal for an end to the violent crackdown.
Officials said country’s representatives were to meet “high-level” Syrians on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Assad replaced his defence minister, Ali Habib, on Monday with illness cited as the official reason.
State television reported that the Christian chief of staff, General Daoud Rajha, was to take up the post.
The position of defence minister is a mostly ceremonial post in Syria. The professional core of the military consists of officers from the minority Alawite sect, the Shia offshoot which Assad belongs to, while most of the conscripts are Sunni.
The military is effectively under the command of Assad’s feared brother Maher. Assad’s brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, is deputy chief or staff and diplomats say he plays a key role in the control over the army.
The European Union imposed sanctions on Habib earlier this month as part of measures against Syria’s ruling hierarchy for their bloody crackdown on demonstrations.