Syrian forces kill 20; activists say death toll over 3,000

Protesters killed near Hama, Damascus, Turkish border; Lebanese Army says Assad forces crossed into their territory in pursuit of fugitives.

Syrian protests screenshot 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Syrian protests screenshot 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
AMMAN - Syrian forces shot dead 20 people on Friday and flooded rural areas around Damascus with troops to trying to end six months of demonstrations against President Bashar Assad, activists said.
Despite the heavy deployment, activists reported protests on the edges of the capital, the northern province of Idlib bordering Turkey and other parts of Syria. Banners proclaimed protesters were "on course to bring down the regime."
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After storming several cities in August to crush protest centers, the Syrian army has swept through rural districts in recent weeks, hunting down activists and army defectors, carrying out widespread arrests and killing dozens of people.
State television broadcast an interview on Thursday night with one of the most prominent military deserters, appearing to recant claims made when he defected and saying he had never been ordered to fire on protesters.
It was not clear how Lieutenant-Colonel Hussein Harmoush, who announced his desertion in June, ended up back in Damascus. Turkey's foreign ministry denied reports it had handed him over to Syrian authorities, saying it would be out of the question to return anyone against their will.
The operations in the north have led to renewed refugee flows into Turkey, Turkish officials say, and on Thursday night Syrian forces crossed 200 meters (yards) into Lebanese territory in pursuit of fugitives, according to the Lebanese army. Lebanese sources said a Lebanese man was wounded in gunfire.
Activists said most of Friday's killings occurred in the countryside around the city of Hama and in Jabal al-Zawiya, a rugged region near Turkey, both scenes of military operations in the last week.
Protesters were also killed on the edge of Damascus, including a 12-year-old boy, and in Homs, 165 km (100 miles) to the north, the activists said.
The Local Coordination Committee, a grassroots activist group, said 27 people died on Friday, though that figure included a handful who died from wounds suffered earlier.
The United Nations says 2,600 people have been killed since Syrians rose up against Assad six months ago, inspired by revolts in North Africa which overthrew leaders of Egypt and Tunisia and have now also ousted Libya's Muammar Gaddafi.
The global activist organization Avaaz said on Friday it had verified the names of 3,004 Syrians killed since the violence erupted in mid-March.
"The Syrian military have either shot men, women and children at peaceful protests or tortured, mutilated and assassinated them in detention," it said. The list included 278 army conscripts, though Avaaz did not say how they died.
Syrian authorities say 700 soldiers and police have been killed. They blame the violence on armed groups, and say another 700 civilians have also died.
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