Syrian troops rounded up hundreds of people in a sweep through villages near Jisr al-Shughour on Monday, fleeing residents said, after President Bashar al-Assad's army retook the rebellious town.

Nearly 7,000 Syrians have already fled the region around Jisr al-Shughour, seeking sanctuary in neighboring Turkey, while thousands more are sheltering close to the frontier in rural areas just inside Syria, activists say.

Monday's wave of arrests followed an army assault on the northwestern town, with troops backed by helicopters and tanks regaining control one week after authorities said 120 security personnel were killed in fighting they blamed on "armed groups."

Some residents said the killings followed a mutiny, or a refusal by some troops to shoot protesters who had joined nationwide demonstrations calling for an end to Assad's rule.

Refugees from Jisr al-Shughour, sheltering on the Syrian side of the border with Turkey, said the military was combing villages to the east of the town and arresting hundreds of men between the ages of 18 and 40, in a pattern seen in other military crackdowns since the unrest started in March.

One person who escaped from Jisr al-Shughour, called Khaled, said two mosques had been hit by tank shelling and the bodies of three fleeing residents, a man, a woman and a child laid on a road 2 km north of the town near a packing material factory.

Mustafa, a 39-year-old mason who fled on Sunday, said there were nine bodies in Jisr al-Shughour and seven on the outskirts.

"This would be a relatively light death toll," one activist in Damascus said. "The shelling and firing have been indiscriminate and we have been fearing a higher death toll,"

Syrian rights groups say 1,300 civilians have been killed since the start of the uprising. One group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, says more than 300 soldiers and police have also been killed.


The government says the protests are part of a violent conspiracy backed by foreign powers to sow sectarian strife.

Army units "have taken total control of Jisr al-Shughour and are chasing remnants of the armed terrorist gangs in the woods and mountains," the Syrian news agency said on Sunday.

It said a soldier and two armed men were killed in clashes around the town. The army defused explosives planted on bridges and roads, and uncovered mass graves containing mostly mutilated bodies of 10 security men killed and buried by armed groups.

Syria has banned most foreign correspondents, making it difficult to verify accounts of events.