Syrian state television says the country's army has begun operations in Jisr al-Shughur, a restive northern town near the Turkish border, as anti-government protests are held in cities across the country.
The government said the operation on Friday aimed to restore security in the town, where authorities said 120 security personnel were killed by "armed groups'' last week.
"Our correspondent in Jisr al-Shughur told us now that in response to people's calls, units from the Syrian Arabic Army started its duties in Jisr al-Shughur ... to arrest armed members," the television report said.The reporter accompanying the army said troops backed by tanks were on the outer edges of the town, ready to enter.
A resident of Jisr al-Shughur who fled the town on Friday morning, making his way towards the Turkish border to seek refuge, denied the government's claims that there were armed gangs in the town.
"All the accusations of residents sheltering gangs are false," he told Al Jazeeera. "And we never asked the army for help or to enter our city. It is them firing on us."
The resident said he had seen the army shooting at fleeing villagers with machine guns.
"They have burned down all the crops in surrounding fields and the villagers are fleeing to the nearby mountain."