BEIRUT – Syrian troops killed at least 17 people Friday in raids on anti-government protesters, activists said, but failed to stop thousands from pouring into streets nationwide and taking their uprising against President Bashar Assad's autocratic rule into a seventh month.
The activists reported new demonstrations from the capital, Damascus, and its suburbs to the southern province of Daraa, where the protest movement was born in mid-March. Crowds also gathered in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour as well as the province of Latakia on the Mediterranean coast and central regions.
The Friday protests -- which have become a weekly ritual after the midday Muslim prayer services -- were held under the banner "We will continue until we bring down the regime."
Syria's uprising, which is targeting one of the Middle East's most repressive regimes, began amid a wave of anti-government protests in the Arab world that have already toppled autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Assad has reacted with deadly force that the U.N. estimates has left some 2,600 people dead.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said security forces shot dead 17 protesters. The greatest bloodshed was in the northwestern region of Jabal al-Zawiya, where 10 people were killed in raids.
At least five people were killed in the central province of Hama and two in the central city of Homs.
Syria-based rights activist Mustafa Osso said thousands also took to the streets of predominantly Kurdish northeastern towns.
The Local Coordination Committees, an activist network, put Friday's death toll from protests and raids at 19.
State-run TV said a policeman was killed and four wounded Friday when they came under fire in the village of Busra Hariri in the southern province of Daraa.
Syria has disputed accounts of civilian deaths and says the regime is fighting terrorists and thugs -- not true reform seekers. A senior Assad adviser, Buthaina Shaaban, said Monday that the toll since March was really 1,400 -- evenly split between security forces and the opposition.
Heavy restrictions on journalists have made it impossible to independently verify the accounts of either side.
Amateur video of the protests and the crackdown has made its way online, providing activists with one of their few outlets to the world.
New video posted on an opposition page on social media showed dozens of people marching in a street in the Damascus neighborhood of Kfar Sousse while chanting, "The people want the president executed." They also shouted, "We don't want Bashar."
Despite Assad's crackdown on the extraordinary revolt against his family's 40-year dynasty, he has acknowledged the need for reform. He has lifted decades-old state of emergency laws and last month endorsed new laws that would allow the formation of political parties alongside his ruling Baath party and enable newly formed political parties to run for parliament and local councils.
The opposition has rejected the measures and is demanding an end to his rule.
In neighboring Lebanon, the Lebanese army said in a statement that Syrian troops briefly crossed the border late Thursday and opened fire at people trying to flee their country. It added that when Lebanese troops reached the northern area, Syrian troops had left but they still opened fire from inside Syria, damaging a Lebanese army vehicle.
More than 5,000 Syrians have fled to Lebanon since the crisis began.