UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos visited the battered city of Homs on Wednesday
Troop reinforcements backed by tanks were massing in the northwestern province of Idlib, close to the Turkish border, in a bid to root out rebel fighters of the Free Syrian Army, activists and a human rights watchdog said.
Ahead of his departure for Damascus on Saturday, former UN chief Annan spoke out strongly against any foreign arming of the rebels, prompting Washington to echo his concerns about the dangers of further militarisation of the conflict in multi-confessional, multi-ethnic Syria.
Opposition activists used their "Syrian Revolution 2011" Facebook page to call demonstrations in solidarity with the long-oppressed Kurdish minority, who have been largely sidelined by the protest movement against President Bashar al-Assad's minority Alawite-dominated regime led by Syria's Sunni Arab majority.
Armoured units were deploying heavily around Idlib province's Jabal al-Zawiya hill district, where rebel fighters have been active, Milad Fadl, a member of the opposition Syrian Revolution General Commission, said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the army had launched an assault Friday on four villages in agricultural areas of the province and was hunting down rebels in the region.
There are concerns that Idlib could suffer the same fate as the Baba Amr neighbourhood of the central city of Homs, which was stormed by government troops on 1 March after a month of shelling.
On Wednesday, UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos briefly visited the battered neighbourhood with a Syrian Red Crescent team.