Damascus: Armoured vehicles entered the port city of Latakia and a village near Lebanon on Saturday, activists said, causing residents to flee as the West seeks ways to pressure Damascus to end the violence.

"Military vehicles including tanks and armoured personnel carriers converged on the southern district of Al-Ramleh" in Latakia, a statement by the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

"At 10:30 a.m heavy gunfire could be heard" in Al-Ramleh, which was at the heart of a large demonstration calling for the fall of (President Bashar al-) Assad's regime."

The Observatory said the arrival of troops sparked the exodus of a large number of residents, especially women and children.

It also reported a "wave of arrests" in Latakia on Thursday.

An activist in the central region of Homs said troops backed by two tanks entered the village of Jussiyeh which borders Lebanon, triggering a stampede across the frontier and to neighbouring areas.

Military vehicles, meanwhile, swooped on the town of Qusayr, also in Homs province, where security and intelligence services launched an arrest campaign.

"No one was spared. Not even women or children," said the Observatory.

Security forces backed by tanks have been crushing dissent city by city and town by town since pro-democracy protests erupted in mid-March.