US, Britain mourn loss of Syrian activists

U.S. and British officials mourned the loss a Syrian anti-government activist who was shot dead along with his colleague by unidentified gunmen in a rebel-held area in the country's northwest.

Dozens of Raed Fares and Hammoud al-Juneid's friends held a wake Saturday in their hometown of Kafranbel in Idlib province, while scattered protests in opposition-held areas condemned their killing and blamed radical Islamists, of whom Fares was a vocal critic.

Fares and al-Juneid were buried Friday after a large silent procession where their bodies were hoisted on mourners' shoulders then carried in open-backed cars, wrapped in the flag of the Syrian revolution.

They "never shied from speaking the truth and upholding the original values of the revolution," said Jim Jeffrey and Joel Rayburn, U.S. State department officials in charge of Syria policy. The officials described them in a statement as "patriots" who documented the "crimes" of the Syrian government.

Al-Juneid was a cameraman who worked with Fares.

The British envoy to Syria, Martin Longden, called their killing a "loss to Syria and its future."

Fares brought global attention to Syria's war, and his hometown Kafranbel, with his humorous English-language protest banners that took jabs at his government and the international community's response to the conflict. He also was a vocal critic of the Islamist militants who gained sway as the conflict raged on, and now control Idlib and his hometown.

In 2013, he founded the local station Fresh Radio to report on the conflict. It was U.S.-funded until Washington cut finances to the Syrian opposition. Fares cautioned that the move would harm the moderates and fuel more extremism.

Fares survived an earlier assassination attempt and was imprisoned by Islamist militants dominant in Idlib.

"He really was the main pillar of the radio. We owe it to him to continue the project he started," said Fares Barakat, a colleague of Fares at Radio Fresh.

A wave of targeted killings and shooting inside rebel-held Idlib and surrounding areas has claimed more than 390 lives since April, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.