The Syrian army has surrounded another town with tanks and artillery, this time, on the border of Iraq. In the past, this has presaged a bloody thrust into the town being targeted.
Syrian tanks surrounded a town near the border with Iraq's Sunni heartland on Sunday after tens of thousands, emboldened by defections among security forces, took to the streets there denouncing President Bashar al-Assad, residents said.
Assad, from the minority Alawite sect, has sent troops in to towns across the country to try to end four months of protests against his rule. But activists say discontent is growing within the mostly Sunni army rank and file.
Killings, mostly carried out by ultra loyalist units, are leading to limited defections within the military, which is controlled by mostly Alawite officers who ultimately answer to Assad's feared brother Maher, activists say.
Some 1,000 troops and security forces backed by tanks and helicopters surrounded Albu Kamal overnight, a poor eastern border crossing with Iraq, a day after Military Intelligence agents there killed five protesters, including a 14 year old boy, residents said.
The killings drove thousands into the streets, overwhelming soldiers and secret police. Residents said around 100 Air Force Intelligence personnel and the crew of at least four armored vehicles joined the protesters.
The defections are growing but still haven't risen to the level where Assad should worry. His troops fear him more than they fear trials for war crimes. Until that changes, the Syrian army will be an obedient servant of Assad's bloodlust.