Residents of the central Syrian town of Rastan were fleeing on Monday, hearing heavy gunfire and fearing an attack after security forces surrounded it, activists said.

People were leaving of fear after troops began deploying at the southern entrance of the town, in Homs province, the Local Coordination Committees of Syria online group said.

Rastan has been the site of intense anti-regime protests.

Since mid-March, pro-democracy protests have engulfed most of Syria, calling for political and economic reforms as well as for President Bashar al-Assad’s ouster.

Government forces have ruthlessly cracked down on protests against almost five decades of Baath Party rule, killing over 2,200 people and triggering a wide-scale international condemnation.

Around 12 people were killed on Sunday, Al Jazeera broadcaster reported.

In Turkish newspaper interviews, President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan both sharply criticised the brutal crackdown by Syrian forces against government opponents.

Both called on Mr. al-Assad to stop the actions against the demonstrators if he wished to avoid the fates of the leaders of Egypt and Libya.

“We have now reached the point where everything is to little, too late. We have lost confidence (in al-Assad),” Mr. Gul was quoted as saying.

Mr. Al-Assad has been defiant to the rallies, and issued few decrees in August, as part of his reform promises aimed to quell the protests.

On Sunday, he endorsed a decree to prohibit the imprisonment of journalists and to allow wider access to information. Earlier this month, decrees on the formation of political parties and general elections were passed.

Syria rejected an Arab League statement demanding an end to bloodshed in the country, describing the statement as “a clear violation” to the organisation’s principles and that it contained “unacceptable and biased language.” Arab League Secretary General Nabil al—Arabi was supposed to start an “urgent mission” in Damascus, but he was waiting for “green light” from the government.

More In: International | News