Syrian tanks bombarded hideouts of army defectors near the central town of Rastan on Thursday, a resident and activists said, two months after the authorities said they had regained control of the important region on the Damascus-Aleppo highway.

Activists said around 50 tanks and armoured vehicles fired anti-aircraft guns and machineguns into farmland on the edge of Rastan, 20 km (12 miles) north of the restive city of Homs.

The town was scene at the end of October of the first major fighting between troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and army defectors in the eight-month uprising against his rule.

The shelling is concentrating on Rastan's western farms. I have called several people who live there and loyalist officers answered their mobile phones instead. They were either killed or arrested, said a resident of the town, who gave his name as Abu Salah.

Thousands of soldiers have bolted from the regular army since it started cracking down on an the eight-month popular protest movement to remove Assad. They have formed armed units loosely linked to the umbrella Free Syrian Army, led by officers now hiding in neighbouring Turkey.

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom; Editing by Mark Heinrich)