Syrian security forces killed 20 civilians Friday, most of them in the flashpoint central city of Homs where the death of Libyan ex-leader Moamer Kadhafi galvanised mass protests, activists said.
"Fifteen people were killed in Homs," which has been at the heart of military operations this week, Rami Abdel Rahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP.
Mass demonstrations, called in celebration of the dramatic end of Kadhafi and in the hope that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will be the next to fall, spread across the central city, the Observatory said.
The toll in Homs included two killed by security forces manning a checkpoint at Bab al-Sibaa ahead of Friday midday prayers, five during search raids in the same area, two by sniper fire and six in a forceful break up of demonstrations.
"Security forces opened heavy machinegun fire against a demonstration in the (Homs) neighbourhoods of Jeb al-Jandaly and Baba Amr," wounding 19 and killing one person there, the Observatory said.
The Local Coordination Committees (LCC), an activist network spurring protests on the ground, later said troops shelled Baba Amr, a residential area, and that heavy explosions shook the neighbourhoods of Deir Baaluba and Bayada.
Security forces imposed a curfew and closed all the mosques of Qusayr, a restive town in Homs province near the border with Lebanon, the LCC said.
The main weekly Muslim prayers have become a springboard for anti-regime rallies, with thousands pouring out of mosques each week to join in, despite the strong likelihood of brutal action by the security forces.
One civilian died when security forces opened fire on a funeral procession in the southern Daraa region, cradle of the protest movement against Assad's regime, Abdel Rahman said.
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In the central province of Hama, a historic hotbed of dissent, two civilians were killed by sniper fire, the Observatory said.
The army dispersed a demonstration that had converged at the Great Mosque of Idlib, in the northwest, so demonstrators regrouped elsewhere. Another person was killed during military operations in the area, the rights group said.
Syrian troops were deployed in the outskirts of Damascus raising new checkpoints and positioning snipers on the rooftops of Saqba, a protest hub near the capital, the LCC said, as well as in Kfarbatna, Hammuriyeh and Jesrin.
In Saqba, security forces clashed for hours with gunmen believed to be defectors, the Observatory said, adding that "one civilian and three soldiers" died in the confrontation.
Assad has been faced with a people's revolt since March 15, which has been harshly repressed, resulting in the deaths of more than 3,000 people, mostly civilians, according to the United Nations.
Pro-democracy activists on Friday hailed the "great victory" of the Libyan revolution after Kadhafi was captured and killed in his hometown and final bastion Sirte, and warned Assad's turn would come next.
"The great victory of the third Arab revolution sends a clear message to the region's tyrants: military and security options fail when confronted with the will of people calling for liberty, justice and equality," the LCC said.
"Your turn has come Doctor (Assad)," protesters wrote on their Facebook page, Syrian Revolution 2011.
"Give whatever delay you want, our revolution will vanquish, we will continue to call with all our voice to bring down the regime and to tell the world that the Syrian people will not surrender," it added.