|Authorities in Syria are accused of carrying out a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters [AFP]
A human rights groups say hundreds of ordinary Syrians have been jailed for "degrading the prestige of the state" amid an intensifying crackdown on anti-government protests.
Hundreds of detainees received a three-year prison sentence on Tuesday, while mass arrests continue to pre-empt further unrest on the Muslim day of prayer on Friday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Demonstrations in the region are typically at their biggest on Fridays after midday prayers.
"Mass arrests are continuing across Syria in another violation of human rights and international conventions," Rami Abdelrahman of the rights body told the Reuters news agency on Wednesday.
In-depth coverage of escalating violence across Syria
About 100 tanks and troop transporters were seen on Wednesday massing in the town of Ar-Rastan, a major hotspot in seven weeks of anti-regime protests, a rights activist there said.
"Reinforcements continue to mass at the northern entrance to Ar-Rastan and, according to our estimates, there must be a hundred tanks and troop transports on the highway between Homs and Hamas near Oronte reservoir," he told the AFP news agency.
Earlier, the source said the Syrian army had been strengthening its forces there for the past three days.
Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera television urged Syrian authorities on Wednesday to release Dorothy Parvaz, one of the Qatar-based channel's journalists, who has been detained since she flew in to Damascus last week.
Parvaz, who holds American, Canadian and Iranian citizenship, was "detained upon arrival in Damascus six days ago [on Friday]. She has had no contact with the outside world since," the channel said.
President Bashar al-Assad's campaign to preserve his 11-year rule took a drastic turn last week after his brother Maher led a tank-backed army unit in shelling protesters into submission at Deraa, the southern city that has been the epicentre of the six-week-old uprising.
Wissam Tarif, executive director of the Insan human rights group, said detainees include activists, community leaders, or people seen documenting the violence on mobile phone or uploading the content to the internet.
Authorities blamed armed groups and infiltrators for stoking unrest and firing on civilians and security forces.
Assad said on Wednesday that the operation in Deraa would be over "very soon", according to the semi-official al-Watan newspaper.
The Insan human rights group said on Tuesday that 2,843 detainees had been verified by family members and the actual number could be as high as 8,000.
More than 800 of them had been taken from Deraa, Reuters reported.
On Tuesday the International Committee of the Red Cross urged Syria to lift restrictions on access to casualties in Deraa.
In the coastal city of Baniyas, about 1,000 protesters marched in the city centre waving flatbread, in solidarity with the people of Deraa.