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Syria: Soldiers kill, arrest 'armed terrorist groups'

By the CNN Wire Staff
A YouTube video grab shows protesters holding a banner  during a pro-democracy demonstration on June 10, 2011.
A YouTube video grab shows protesters holding a banner during a pro-democracy demonstration on June 10, 2011.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "A large number" of arrests are made, state media reports
  • "A number of "armed" terrorists are killed or wounded
  • The conflicts in Syria has raged for three months

(CNN) -- Syrian soldiers working to retake a rebellious northern town killed, wounded and arrested members of "armed terrorist groups" operating in the region, state media reported Saturday.

This development unfolded as Syrian troops on Friday afternoon came to the entrances of the city, Jisr Al-Shugur, in an operation "to restore security and tranquility to the area which was being terrorized by armed terrorist groups," the Syrian Arab News Agency reported.

This military offensive took place amid anti-government protests raging across Syria for nearly three months, outpourings that have led to violent security crackdowns on demonstrators.

Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime has consistently blamed what it calls armed gangs for the bloodshed over the last three months. But activists and protesters say security forces have caused the violence.

The Syrian government announced it would punish Jisr Al-Shugur after it accused "armed groups" of killing at least 120 security forces there several days ago.

Syrian refugees who fled to Turkey disputed that claim, saying some of the soldiers rebelled after being ordered to fire on unarmed protesters and instead started fighting among themselves.

The military advance spread panic throughout the civilian population, and residents said they had evacuated women and children from Jisr Al-Shugur in recent days. More than 3,800 Syrians have fled to Turkey, the Anatolia news agency reported.

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In the nearby town of Maaret al-Nouman on Friday, Syrian security forces and helicopters advancing toward Jisr Al-Shugur sprayed automatic weapons fire into a crowd of thousands of protesters demonstrating after Friday prayers.

As the army reached Jisr Al-Shugur, it "arrested a large number of the armed terrorist group members and killed and wounded a number of them, despite the fact that these groups resorted to setting up traps using dynamites stolen from Wadi Abyad dam area," SANA reported, citing Syrian TV.

The military confiscated machine guns, explosive devices, detonators and Turkish SIM cards from those arrested, state TV reported on Saturday.

"Cameramen and reporters" were ambushed at the entrance of Jisr Al-Shugur "after they came under heavy fire by the terrorist armed gangs." It said the journalists were doing well and there were no casualties.

"The army managed to foil the armed groups' attempts to besiege the grain silos in the area. The group had threatened to burn crops and any vehicle that attempts to transport groups to the silos," SANA reported.

Protests spread across Syria on Friday and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 25 people were killed in various locations, including 11 in Maaret al-Nouman.

Amnesty International said it believes that more than 1,100 people have been killed in the three-lcrackdown, including 82 children.

Every Friday for weeks, anti-government marches have been organized after Muslim prayers. Friday's expression of discontent was called "the Friday of kinship."'