Syrian forces have shot dead at least 20 civilians in attacks on pro-democracy demonstrations across the country, a Syrian rights group said.
Thousands of protesters took to the streets nationwide for the 17th consecutive Friday to demand an end to President Bashar al-Assad's 11-year rule, activists said by telephone, defying an intensifying military crackdown on an uprising for political freedoms.
"The security forces are continuing violent repression against peaceful demonstrations demanding freedom and the downfall of the regime, firing live ammunition at most protests all over Syria on Friday," Syrian human rights organisation Sawasiah said in a statement sent to Reuters.
Sawasiah said it had the names of 20 people killed in the cities of Latakia, Hama, Homs, Deraa, Kiswa, Deir ez-Zor and in and around the capital Damascus.
Syrian authorities have expelled most independent journalists since the uprising began, making it difficult to verify reports of clashes, and do not usually comment on reports of killings.
Arrests continued across the country in the last two days, rights campaigners said, including hundreds of people in Damascus, where they said Republican Guards deployed in force in the central Maidan district on Friday to prevent protests.
Blast at oil pipeline
The official Syrian news agency said a member of the security police was killed in the town of Albu Kamal on the border with Iraq, and that saboteurs bombed an export oil pipeline near the central city of Homs on Friday.
The attack caused an oil leak, it said. Homs, where the army has deployed tanks, hosts one of Syria's two oil refineries and has been hit by big street protests.
The Syrian leadership blames "armed terrorist groups" for most killings during the revolt, which began with demands for political liberalisation and now seeks the toppling of Assad, who succeeded his late father, Hafez al-Assad, in 2000.
The global activist group Avaaz said in a new report that Syrian security forces had killed 1,634 people, while at least 2,918 had disappeared in Assad's violent crackdown.
Activists say people ranging from 10,000 to 20,000 have been arrested in the near four months of uprising against the Baath party rule of more than four decades.
The Syrian government has said more than 500 soldiers and security personnel have been killed. Human rights campaigners say soldiers who have refused to fire on civilians have been shot dead. They add that army conscripts and rank and file members have been defecting in increasing numbers.