Al Jazeera returns to Syria under government supervision
Syrian troops have killed at least four people as army tanks and helicopters attacked a village in the northwestern province of Idlib, activists have said.
"The four died in random firing on the village of Rameh from tank machine guns, which has become customary in these unjustified assaults.
The tanks started firing on surrounding woods then directed their fire on the village," Ammar Qarabi, president of the Syrian National Human Rights Organisation, told Reuters news agency on Wednesday, from exile in Cairo.
Hundreds of other residents fled the village, an activist said by telephone from the area.
"The army is entering village after village," he told the AP news agency, asking that his name not be used out of fear for his safety.
"The men have fled to Damascus and into the mountains. They are afraid they'll be tortured or arrested."
The military operation in Idlib is part of a sweep against dissident centres the government fears could become a base for a wider rebellion.
Besides Rameh, the Syrian army advanced on a series of other hamlets: Marayn, Ihsim, Barshoun and the Roman-era village of al-Bara.
The activist said army units set up checkpoints at the entrances of some villages, checking the identity cards of young men.
Over the past three weeks, thousands of Syrians have fled into refugee camps in neighbouring Turkey and to Lebanon.
On Wednesday, hundreds of refugees at two camps along the Turkish border held a simultaneous, hour-long protest against Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, and denounced the violence in Idlib province.
Rights campaigners say Assad's forces have killed more than 1,300 civilians since the uprising for political freedom erupted, including over 150 people who died in a scorched earth campaign against towns and villages in Idlib.
The regime disputes that death toll and says "armed thugs" and foreign conspirators are behind the unrest.
The US Treasury Department sanctioned Iran's national police and Syrian security forces for alleged human rights abuses in Syria on Wednesday.
The sanctions target the Syria Poltical Security Directorate, one of four majour branches of the country's security service, and the head of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence. The Treasury Department also put sanctions on the Law Enforcement Force in Iran and its two leaders for allegedly giving support to Assad's government.
"Today's action builds on the administration's efforts to pressure Assad and his regime to end the use of wanton violence and begin transitioning to aa system that ensures the universal rights of the Syrian people," David Cohen, treasury's acting under secretary for terrorism said in a statement.