Syrian security forces are rounding up males over age 16 in villages and towns in the northern province of Idlib, scene of much unrest over the past few days, according to reports.
The random detentions, reported by the Associated Press, were concentrated around the major towns of Jisr al-Shughour and Maaret al-Numan and in nearby villages, an area where the army has massed troops for days in apparent preparation for a fresh military operation.
The AP quoted Syrian human rights activist Mustafa Osso as saying that at least 300 people a day were being detained.
Thousands of Syrian civilians have fled to Turkey from the region after Syria’s army began operations to “restore security” in the flashpoint town of Jisr al-Shughur, near the Turkish border.
The government justified the operation, which began last week, after 120 troops and security personnel were reportedly killed in violence there.
Turkish officials, meanwhile, were preparing to send food, clean water, medicine and other aid to thousands more stranded on the Syrian side, the AP reported Wednesday.
The unusual plan for a cross-border operation on Syrian soil appeared to have Syrian clearance, being announced by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu after he met with an envoy from President Bashar al-Assad authoritarian regime.
"We have taken precautions and humanitarian aid will be supplied for around 10,000 people who are waiting on the Syrian side of the border," Davutoglu said. He also reiterated Turkey's support for major democratic reform in Syria.
Turkey already is hosting 8,900 Syrians who have fled the Idlib crackdown, the AP reports, calling it an embarrassment for Damascus, which has banned foreign journalists from covering the uprising in Syria.
The AP quoted Osso, the activist, as saying that troops opened fire early Thursday on the outskirts of Maaret al-Numan, a town of 100,000 on the highway linking Damascus with Syria's second-largest city, Aleppo.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, meanwhile, said dozens of tanks, armored personnel carriers and buses carrying security forces were deploying around the town of Khan Sheikhon, south of Maaret al-Numan, and residents were fleeing.