President Assad’s reported move follows massive anti-government demonstrations in the flashpoint province.
|Mass crowds came onto the streets of Hama on Friday, the city’s largest display of dissent since protests began [AFP]|
Syrian tanks and armoured vehicles deployed at the entrances to the city of Hama have pulled back, residents said.
They headed north on Sunday after moving close to the city of 650,000 people.
The move comes two days after the city saw the largest protest against President Bashar al-Assad since an uprising began three months ago.
“The regime is using scare tactics, but the people of Hama are not bowing,” one of the residents said.
He said tens of thousands of people assembled for a night rally at the main square on Sunday, despite electricity cuts designed to hamper protests.
Tens of people were earlier arrested in neighbourhoods on the edges of Hama and secret police patrols were seen in the city, residents said.
Meanwhile, activists and a resident said Syrian forces shot dead two protesters during a demonstration in a Damascus suburb.
“It was a usual night demonstration when a hail of bullets hit. Many were also injured,” the resident, who gave his name as Abu al-Nour, told Reuters news agency by phone from the poor suburb where thousands of refugees from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights live.
Troops advanced late on Saturday on Kfar Rumma village and made arrests in the district of Jabal al-Zawiyah, Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told the AFP news agency.
“Ninety-seven military vehicles, including tanks and personnel carriers, carrying thousands of soldiers moved Saturday night towards Kfar Rumma,” he said.
“Hundreds of residents emerged from their homes to confront them and prevent them from advancing, but the troops pursued their deployment to carry out their military operations.”
Al Jazeera cannot verify reports from Syria because of restrictions on reporting in the country.
A resident of Hama said communication networks had been cut off in the city, a tactic that has been used by the military ahead of assaults on cities and towns elsewhere.
Security forces and gunmen loyal to Assad were seen in several neighbourhoods, he said.
The security presence had lessened in Hama since forces killed at least 60 protesters in the city a month ago, in one of the bloodiest days of the uprising against Assad. Residents said security forces and snipers had fired on crowds of demonstrators.
The move to deploy more force comes a day after Assad removed the governor of Hama, Ahmad Khaled Abdulaziz.
The opposition has deep roots in Hama. In 1982, under the rule of Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, the army stormed the city to crush a revolt by the Muslim Brotherhood, leaving about 20,000 people dead.