With international concern growing over Syria’s repression of pro-democracy protests, Britain, France, Germany and Portugal have asked the UN Security Council to condemn Assad.
However, veto-holding Russia has said it opposes any such council measure.
World powers have shown no appetite for any Libya-style military intervention in Syria, which has so far shrugged off sanctions and verbal reprimands.
Residents said about 40 tanks and troop carriers had deployed about 7km from Jisr al-Shughour, a northwestern town of 50,000 where authorities say “armed gangs” killed more than 120 security personnel earlier this week.
Other accounts described a mutiny among troops who refused to fire on civilians after a pro-democracy rally in the town on Friday. Loyalist military units then attacked the mutineers, according to the reports.
Syria has barred most independent media from the country, making it difficult to verify accounts of the violence.
“Jisr al-Shughour is practically empty. People were not going to sit and be slaughtered like lambs,” said one refugee who had crossed into Turkey, giving his name as Mohammad.
“Demonstrations in the villages are still going on. Women and children are carrying flowers and shouting ‘people want the downfall of the regime’,” he said.