People in the city of Homs and nearby areas of northwest Syria staged a general strike on Wednesday over President Bashar al-Assad's intensifying military crackdown on protesters, and two were killed in one town, activists and residents said.

They said most employees stayed home and most shops closed in the city of one million, and the strike was observed in wide swathes of the countryside around Homs and cities and towns in the northwestern province of Idlib near Turkey.

Public employees participated for the first time. A few food shops have remained open,' said a resident of Homs, who gave his name as Omar. Youtube footage showed shuttered shops on both sides of a main street in the nearby rural region of Houla.

Two protesters were reported killed in the Idlib town of Maarat al-Numaan on the Damascus-Aleppo highway, where businesses had shut down, anti-Assad activists said.

Everyone closed shop and a crowd of thousands assembled near the mosaics museum in the centre of the town, where they came under fire. The AMN (security police) are still firing at random to break the strike, a local resident said.

He was speaking by phone. The sound of machinegun fire was heard in the background.

Last week, businesses closed in the southern province of Deraa, which borders Jordan, in signs of expanding civil disobedience against 41 years of Assad family rule. The popular revolt is now in its eighth month.

Their is total closure. The streets of Deraa are empty, even the few butcher shops and pharmacies that were open are now closed, said Jasem Masalmeh, a resident of Deraa town.

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Suleiman al-Khalidi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)