BEIRUT (AP) — Gunmen assassinated a senior prosecutor and a judge in a restive province in northwest Syria on Sunday, the country's state news agency said, while activists reported that security forces shelled rebel-held areas in the besieged city of Homs.
SANA news agency said gunmen opened fire in the morning on a car carrying Idlib provincial state prosecutor Nidal Ghazal and judge Mohammed Ziadeh. The agency said the two were killed instantly along with their driver.
Syrian rebels control parts of Idlib province, which borders Turkey. It has been one of the regions hardest hit by a government crackdown on an uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime.
The uprising began with mostly peaceful protests but has transformed into an armed insurgency against Assad in many areas, raising fears the country is spiraling toward civil war. In January, the U.N. estimated that more than 5,400 had been killed since March.
SANA said the prosecutor's assassination came a day after gunmen shot dead Jamal al-Bish, member of the city council of the nearby northern city of Aleppo, Syria's largest. It said he was killed outside the city, a center of support for President Bashar Assad that has been relatively quiet since the uprising began.
The Syrian government blames armed "terrorists" acting out a foreign conspiracy to destabilize the country.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group said shelling continued Sunday of the Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr, which has been subjected to government forces attacks since Feb. 4.
The group also said troops stormed the eastern town of Sukhna searching for fugitive members of the opposition, and that one woman was shot dead during the raids.
On Saturday, Syrian security forces fired live rounds and tear gas at thousands of people marching in a funeral procession that turned into one of the largest protests in the capital Damascus since the 11-month uprising began.
The violence broke out during a visit by a Chinese envoy, who said his country will back a solution to the crisis based on proposals already put forward by the Arab League — even though Beijing is unlikely to support the regional bloc's call for Assad to step aside.
China, along with Russia, recently supported Damascus by vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have condemned Assad's regime. During his visit Saturday to Syria, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun urged dialogue and called on all parties to stop the violence.
Bassem Mroue can be reached on twitter at http://twitter.com/bmroue