At least two dozen people have died in renewed fighting in the northern part of Syria between security forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and members of the Free Syria Army (FSA), amid fears the country is descending into a state of civil war.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the most recent clash erupted in the northern city of Idlib, near the border with Turkey.

In addition, violence has been reported in the city of Homs in the center of the nation, and also in Deraa in the south. Both Homs and Deraa are flashpoints for anti-Assad sentiment.

The FSA is composed of defectors from the Syrian military who objected to orders by Assad to shoot and kill unarmed protesters.

After eight months of unrest, nearly 4,000 people have been killed, according to estimates by the United Nations and human rights activists, while thousands more have been arrested and imprisoned.

Human rights activists also claim that Assad’s security forces have committed acts of torture on prisoners in a desperate attempt to keep the ruling Ba’athists in power, after 41 years, through terror and intimidation.

Meanwhile, Syria’s isolation from the outside world continues to deepen. Not only have the European Union and United States imposed increasingly draconian sanctions on Damascus, but so have the Arab League (which Syria helped co-found) and Turkey, a one-time ally of Assad.

The top human rights official of the United Nations, Navi Pillay, condemned Syria’s security forces for having committed gross and systematic violations against the civilian population.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has also urged Assad to step down. Speaking in Istanbul, Turkey, Biden described the climate in Syria as one of brutal repression.

We stand with Turkey and a growing chorus of nations in calling for President Assad to step aside, he said.