- Associated Press - Sunday, February 19, 2012

BEIRUT — Gunmen opened fire Sunday on a car carrying a senior Syrian state prosecutor and a judge in the restive northwest province of Idlib, killing both of them and their driver, according to the state news agency.

Syrian military defectors waging an armed struggle against President Bashar Assad’s regime control parts of Idlib province, which borders Turkey. It has been one of the regions hardest hit by the government crackdown on an 11-month-old uprising against Mr. Assad’s regime.

State news agency SANA said Idlib provincial state prosecutor Nidal Ghazal and Judge Mohammed Ziadeh were killed instantly in the attack. Activists reported at least 14 other people killed.

On Saturday, SANA said gunmen fatally shot 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 Mr. Assad that has been relatively quiet since the uprising began.

The Syrian government blames armed “terrorists” for the uprising and says they are carrying out a foreign conspiracy to destabilize the country.

Clashes between military rebels and Syrian forces are growing more frequent, and the defectors have managed to take control of small pieces of territory in the north and in central Homs province. The increasing militarization of the conflict is pushing Syria to the brink of a civil war.

The U.N. last gave a death toll for the conflict in January, saying 5,400 had been killed in 2011 alone. But hundreds more have been killed since, according to activist groups. The group Local Coordination Committees says more than 7,300 have been killed since March of last year.

There is no way to independently verify the numbers, however, as Syria bans almost all foreign journalists and human rights organizations.

In other violence, activists reported that security forces shelled rebel-held areas in the besieged city of Homs.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said forces continued to shell the Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr, which has been under government attack since Feb. 4.

The Observatory, which has activists throughout Syria, said 23 buses full of troops along with military vehicles and ambulances were seen heading from Damascus toward Homs.

The group also said troops stormed the eastern town of Sukhna searching for fugitive members of the opposition, and that one woman was fatally shot during the raids. It said two other people were killed by troops in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour and the northern village of Atareb.

SANA said four people, a student and three civil servants, were fatally shot in the central province of Hama when gunmen opened fire at a bus carrying them.