DAMASCUS (AFP) - The Syrian army consolidated its grip on the hotbed city of Homs on Sunday, activists said, as embattled President Bashar al-Assad sacked the governor of a flashpoint province 48 hours after massive anti-regime protests. Security forces also rounded up hundreds of civilians in Damascus and made a spate of arrests in the town of Sarakeb in the northwestern province of Idlib near the Turkish border, activists said. In Homs, troops backed by tanks "deployed heavily in Duar al-Fakhura and around the neighbourhood of Al-Nazihin," said Abdel Karim Rihawi, who heads the Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights. He said the operation was apparently aimed at "preparing to carry out a military and security operation in the region." More than 50 people have been killed in the past week in Homs, 160 kilometres (100 miles) north of Damascus, either by army gunfire or in clashes between rival demonstrators, rights activists have said. They have accused the regime of sowing sectarian strife among the city's Christians, Sunni Muslims and Assad's Alawite minority community. Residents of Homs observed a strike on Saturday while the army encircled the city, cutting off its water and electricity. Syria's third-largest city, Homs has spearheaded demonstrations against Assad and his regime since protests erupted on March 15. The army had already entered the city in May in a bid to stop rallies calling for the fall of the regime, and launched a new operation backed by security forces earlier this week. The crackdown on dissent prompted condemnations on Friday from France and Britain as UN officials spoke of the possibility of crimes against humanity being committed in Syria since mid-March. In Damascus, security forces arrested hundreds of people in an operation targeting the neighbourhoods of Qabun and Rukneddin, which has a mostly Kurdish population, Rihawi told AFP in Nicosia by phone. "Army units set up roadblocks on routes into Qabun, controlling all entry and exit," he said, adding that they had lists of wanted people. Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said: "Soldiers armed with automatic rifles are deployed at the main routes into Qabun and in front of mosques. "The security forces also searched homes looking for weapons, and made some arrests," he said, adding that they ransacked homes but emerged empty-handed. More than 15 people were arrested in the town of Sarakeb in the Idlib countryside, Abdel Rahman told AFP in Nicosia by phone. "Army units who are deployed on the outskirts of the town opened fire to disperse the residents of Sarakeb who had gathered to cut off the highway that links Aleppo to Damascus," he said. The residents wanted to protest against the security crackdown in Sarakeb, which has witnessed almost daily anti-government demonstrations, he said. "The security forces reopened the highway and then made arrests in the town, rounding up more than 15 people," Abdel Rahman added. Forty-eight hours after Friday's massive anti-regime protests in the eastern oil hub of Deir Ezzor, Assad dismissed the regional governor, the official SANA news agency reported on Sunday. He issued a decree appointing Samir Othman al-Sheikh to replace Hussein Arnoos as governor, the agency said. More than 1.2 million Syrians demonstrated in Deir Ezzor city and in Hama in the north, on Friday, according to Abdel Rahman. "More than 1.2 million people marched: in Deir Ezzor there were more than 550,000, and in Hama more than 650,000," he said. Earlier in July, Assad replaced the governor of Hama after 500,000 protesters rallied in the opposition bastion calling for the fall of the regime. Deir Ezzor and Hama have been rallying points for pro-democracy protests since mid-March, and Hama has a bloody past. In 1982 an estimated 20,000 people were killed there when the army put down a revolt against the rule of Assad's late father, Hafez al-Assad. According to the Syrian Observatory, 1,483 civilians are now confirmed dead in the government's crackdown on dissent since mid-March. The violence also claimed the lives of 365 troops and security forces. In that time, at least 12,000 people have been arrested and thousands have fled to neighbouring Turkey and Lebanon, according to rights groups.