BEIRUT – Syrian security forces fired on protesters in the central province of Homs on Saturday, killing two people and wounding at least eight, as President Bashar Assad pushed ahead with a brutal crackdown despite assurances to the U.N. chief last week that the military operations have ended.

Assad has faced mounting criticism for the offensive against the 5-month-old uprising, most recently from the United States and its European allies, who on Thursday demanded that the Syrian leader step down.

A state-owned Syrian newspaper rejected those calls Saturday, saying they revealed the “face of the conspiracy” against Damascus.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said security forces on Saturday shot dead two people in the town of Rastan, near the provincial capital of Homs, including well-known activist Mahmoud Ayoub.

The group said the troops also wounded at least eight people in Homs, where a general strike was under way to protest the crackdown. Most of the city’s markets were closed.

The government on Saturday dispatched reinforcements the city, Syria’s third-largest and the site of intense anti-regime protests, according to the Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the group.