Beirut: Syrian security forces fired on a funeral procession in a restive northwestern border region, killing two people and raising Tuesday's death toll to at least 28, activists said.
The flare-up of violence in Idlib province highlighted how Syria's uprising, which earlier this year involved mostly peaceful demonstrations in small towns and cities, has become a virtual insurgency in the countryside along the Turkish border.
In Damascus, a prominent US-born Syrian blogger and press freedom campaigner was charged on Monday by Syrian authorities with trying to incite sectarian strife, her organisation said.
The Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression in the Arab World said on Tuesday that Razan Ghazzawi was also charged with spreading false information and weakening national sentiment -- a charge often levelled against those who challenge the Syrian regime.
The charges could carry a prison sentence of up to 15 years. The statement issued on Tuesday by the SCM, where Ghazzawi worked, said she denied the charges.
She was arrested December 4 at the border while on her way to Jordan for a conference on press freedom. Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, and other Syrian activists said thousands of people were taking part in the funeral in the city of Idlib of civilians killed there earlier in the day when the gunfire erupted.
Regime forces swept through villages in the area near the Turkish frontier and attacked infiltrators at the border, and anti-regime fighters staged a retaliatory ambush and assassinated a senior officer earlier on Tuesday, the reports and Syrian media said.
Military defectors known as the Free Syrian Army have found shelter alongside thousands of Syrian refugees on the Turkish side, making use of mountainous terrain, local smuggling networks and support among villagers on the Syrian side to stage cross-border attacks.
President Bashar Assad's forces have responded with stepped-up border patrols and reprisal raids on villages where anti-regime protests have been frequent.
The bloodshed in Syria, which the UN said on Monday has left at least 5,000 dead, has resulted in increasing pressure on the Assad regime, including sanctions by the United States, the EU and the Arab League.