Syrian troops backed by tanks tightened their grip on the town of Jisr al-Shughour on Saturday as they pressed ahead with an effort to regain authority over a swath of territory in northern Syria that appeared to have fallen out of government control.
The offensive against the northern rural town came as tens of thousands of Syrians took to the streets around the country yet again to call for the ouster of President Bashar Assad, in a further sign that the government's use of overwhelming force is not only failing to crush a swelling tide of discontent, but perhaps helping to fuel the unrest.
At least 34 people were killed in the latest violence, according to Wissam Tarif of the human-rights group Insan, including at least 19 who died in the northern province of Idlib as the Syrian army swept through villages toward Jisr al-Shughour, near the Turkish border. The others died when troops opened fire on protesters staging demonstrations in towns elsewhere, he said.
The Washington Post said it was told by an eyewitness in Jisr al-Shughour that around 2,000 officers and conscripts had defected from the Syrian army. Syrian government spokeswoman Reem Haddad said she was aware of only one officer who defected who gave an interview on Al-Jazeera network.
YEMEN: Yemeni soldiers battled Islamic militants Saturday in an attempt to drive them from several southern towns under the control of hundreds of the fighters. The clashes killed 40 on both sides, officials said. In a twist, Gen. Faisal Ragab, the commander leading the campaign to drive back the Islamists, is among several top military figures who have turned against the country's president and thrown their support behind the massive protest movement pushing for the autocratic leader's ouster. The commanders who abandoned embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh accuse him of trying to sow chaos and letting the southern towns fall into the hands of Islamic militants in an effort to persuade the United States and Western powers that without him, al-Qaida would take control of the country.
LIBYA: Rebels and forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi reportedly were battling in the strategic port and refinery city of Zawiya, 30 miles west of Tripoli, on Saturday, apparently forcing the closure of a crucial highway linking Tripoli with the Tunisian border. The battles represent the most sustained fighting close to the capital in months. The renewed unrest marks the latest blow for a regime already holding off rebel forces on several fronts and suffering daily bombing raids from a NATO-led alliance that includes the United States. New explosions rocked the capital Saturday, the latest in an intensified series of raids on Tripoli.
This report contains information from the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post.