Syrian forces killed at least five people when they raided a Sunni farming village Sunday, torching homes and looting shops in what activists said is a sign of worsening relations among the country's religious groups.
Tensions stemming from the 14-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad also touched off clashes across the border in Lebanon as the revolt threatened to morph into a broader conflict.
The relentless violence further undermines a U.N.-backed peace plan that is supposed to bring an end to Syria's deadly crisis. A cease-fire that was supposed to begin April 12 has had only a limited effect, throwing into doubt the rest of the plan that calls for talks between Assad's regime and those seeking to end his rule.
The raid against the impoverished village of al-Tamana, about 35 miles northwest of the city of Hama, began late Saturday and continued through the early hours Sunday. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that five people were killed in the raid and that government troops were setting fire to homes.
Speaking via Skype from Hama, activist Mousab Alhamadee said one local rebel leader was killed alongside five civilians.
"He was a hero in the Free Syrian Army who was trying to defend the civilians," he said, referring to the umbrella group of local, anti-regime militias.
The area, a plain of farmland along the Orontes River, is dotted with villages of Christians, Sunni Muslims and Alawites, the offshoot sect of Shiite Islam to which Assad belongs.
Alhamadee, who is from a village near al-Tamana, said sectarian tensions were low before the uprising but have deteriorated as Sunni villages such as al-Tamana joined the anti-Assad uprising.
In northern Lebanon, meanwhile, residents said running gunbattles broke out in the city Saturday and continued through Sunday morning, primarily between a neighborhood populated by Sunni Muslims opposed to Assad and another area with many Assad backers from his Alawite sect.
The fighting highlights how easily trouble in Syria can raise tensions in neighboring Lebanon, with which it shares a complex web of political and sectarian ties and rivalries.
Lebanon's national news agency, NNA, said one soldier was shot dead by a sniper in the city early Sunday. Another man was found dead on the side of a road, while a third died after a shell landed in a residential neighborhood.
An Associated Press reporter in Tripoli said the Lebanese army sent reinforcements to the city but that intermittent clashes continued Sunday with gunmen shooting at each other with automatic rifles. Heavier weapons, like rocket-propelled grenades, have also been fired.
Lebanon is sharply split along sectarian lines, with 18 religious sects. But it also has a fragile political fault line precisely over the issue of Syria.
An array of pro-Syrian parties support Assad's regime, as do many Lebanese citizens. Others oppose Assad and accuse Damascus of meddling in Lebanese politics.
The two sides are the legacy of, and backlash against, Syria's virtual rule over Lebanon from 1976 to 2005 and its continued influence since then.
Syria's uprising started in March 2011 with protests calling for political reform. The government brutally cracked down on dissent, and many in the opposition have since taken up arms to defend themselves and attack government troops. Some soldiers also have switched sides and joined forces with the rebels.