Dozens of families fled the Syrian city of Hama on Thursday, fearing a full-scale crackdown by security forces a week after a massive protest against the regime of President Bashar Assad, activists said.

The central Syrian city has become a centre of resistance in the four-month-old uprising and poses a potential dilemma for Assad’s government. A major offensive could make the city a fresh rallying cry for the opposition, but Mr. Assad’s regime also does not want a repeat of last Friday’s stunning rally of an estimated 300,000 protesters.

Some of those fleeing Hama, who mostly live on the edge of the city, headed westward to the town of Salamiyeh about 30 km away, said Rami Abdul-Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“They are afraid of military operations in the area,” said Mr. Abdul-Rahman. Security forces have been conducting arrest raids on Hama’s outskirts for the past two days.

Details could not be independently confirmed. Syria has barred most foreign media from the country.

Hama holds an important place in the revolt against the rule of the Assad family. In 1982, the late Hafez Assad ordered troops to crush a rebellion by Islamist forces, killing between 10,000 and 25,000 people, rights activists say.

Security forces withdrew from Hama last month after a fierce crackdown on demonstrators that killed some 65 people -- apparently hoping to appease angry, grieving families. But anti-Assad protests swelled. The outpouring last week was the largest protest since the mutiny against Mr. Assad’s regime began.

Keywords: Syrian uprising

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