GUVECCI, Turkey – Terrified Syrians ran for their lives Wednesday as elite army units swept through a restive northern province, expanding a deadly operation to crush signs of dissent against President Bashar Assad.

Farther south, tens of thousands took to the streets in the central city of Hama to show solidarity with victims of the military crackdown. Hama was the site of a 1982 massacre by the government of Assad’s father and predecessor, Hafez Assad, whose forces shelled the city to crush a Sunni Muslim uprising.

The crisis in Syria has drawn international condemnation and isolation as serious as any in the Assad regime’s 40 years in power. Human rights activists say more than 1,400 Syrians have died and some 10,000 have been detained as the government has struggled to put down the 3-month-old national upheaval.

In recent days, Syrian tanks and the government’s most loyal troops have been trying to extinguish any chance the anti-Assad resistance could gain a base for a wider armed rebellion.

They have sealed off strategic areas in the north and east — including the town of Jisr al-Shughour, which was spinning out of government control before the military moved in on Sunday.

Other towns and villages in the region were on alert. Maj. Gen. Riad Haddad, head of the military’s political department, said tanks surrounding Maaret al-Numan, a town of 100,000, had not entered “yet” — suggesting they were readying an operation.

Hundreds of people were fleeing Maaret al-Numan on Wednesday, as security forces intermittently shelled the area and raided nearby villages, making arrests.

Gen. Haddad also confirmed witness accounts that army units were surrounding the eastern town of al-Boukamal, near the Iraqi frontier, “to protect the borders.”

The area was a smuggling route for insurgents and weapons into Iraq in the 2000s, and Syrian officials worry about a reverse flow of arms into Syria.