John Cantlie, an independent photojournalist, reports from the Syrian town of Saraqeb: The sound of the caterpillar tracks could be felt as much as heard, a deep rumble that sent a rattle through windows and a tremble of fear through the guts.
Then we saw them. Huge Soviet-made T72s, accompanied by troop carriers driving slowly into town, extra plates welded onto the sides to deflect rocket-propelled grenades. It was just after 9.30am, and the tanks were coming to Saraqeb.
“Light the tyres!”
The rebels of the Free Syrian Army in Saraqeb, a farming town of 30,000 in northern Syria, are better organised than many in the surrounding Idlib province. Squaring themselves away into formation around the central marketplace, they poured petrol on to truck tyres and lit them sending plumes of thick black smoke into the air, obscuring the sun and – hopefully – the tank gunners’ visibility.
Still the tanks came, driving into town one after another. The troop carriers stopped to take up holding positions, while the T72s turned in pairs to face towards the centre.
I had been smuggled into Saraqeb last weekend by a local guerrilla unit, keen to show the world that despite playing along with international efforts to broker a ceasefire, President Bashar al-Assad was continuing to use all-out force to crush his opponents. While he agreed last week to a six-point peace plan brokered by the veteran diplomat, Kofi Annan, what I saw for myself suggests the Syrian leader intends anything but.