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Violence erupts during another round of protests around Syria

By the CNN Wire Staff
Lebanese and Syrian anti-Assad demonstrators protest in the northern Lebanese coastal city of Tripoli on Friday.
Lebanese and Syrian anti-Assad demonstrators protest in the northern Lebanese coastal city of Tripoli on Friday.
  • NEW: An activist group says at least 21 civilians and 1 soldier were killed Friday
  • There have been nationwide protests every week after prayers
  • Friday has been dubbed "Free Detainees Friday"
  • The anti-government demos are entering their fifth month

(CNN) -- Violence erupted yet again during nationwide protests Friday in Syria, with an activist reporting at least 21 civilians and one soldier killed.

Sixteen of the fatalities occurred in Damascus and its suburbs, one in Homs, three in Idlib and one in Daraa, said Rami Abelrahman, director of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

They bring the overall death toll for civilians since the unrest began more than four months ago to 1,440, with an additional 353 deaths among army and security personnel, Abelrahman said.

Echoing demands for change that they have made for months, anti-government demonstrators took to streets around the Middle Eastern nation.

Massive gatherings were held in the western city of Hama and the northeastern city of Deir Ezzor, according to activists. Protesters also marched in the western city of Homs, the northwestern city of Idlib and the capital, Damascus, in the south.

In addition to the deaths, activists reported dozens of injuries around Syria.

The rights' observatory, for instance, said several people were wounded when security personnel fired at protesters in the Damascus neighborhood of Qaboun. It also reported gunfire from security forces during protests in Homs.

State TV reported "armed groups" on Friday killed a resident of Idlib in the northwest and wounded two security force members in the Jawbar suburb of Damascus. It said such groups also opened fire on security forces and citizens in the Damascus neighborhood of Qaboun.

The Syrian Arab News Agency said military and security forces were protecting demonstrators from armed groups in Daraa province, in the south.

CNN was not able to independently verify the accounts from both the government and activists.

Protests have been occurring almost daily in Syria. But they have been particularly notable every Friday after Muslim prayers, with nationwide demonstrations organized to highlight a different theme each week.

Activists dubbed this week's theme "Free Detainees Friday," a call for the release of political prisoners.

As they have in previous weeks, many of the protesters also chanted for the downfall of the regime.

Activists have blamed the deaths on the government crackdown; the government has blamed "armed groups" for the violence.

A report about the Syrian unrest issued this week by the International Crisis Group, a non-government organization that analyzes conflicts, said the fighting "is clouded in some mystery" because of "crude" regime propaganda and the limiting of access by outside reporters.

"Protesters claim they are entirely peaceful, but that assertion is hard to reconcile with witness testimony and with the vicious murder of several security officers. More plausibly, criminal networks, some armed Islamist groups, elements supported from outside and some demonstrators acting in self-defense have taken up arms."

However, the report said, that is a "marginal" element of the unrest.

"The vast majority of casualties have been peaceful protesters, and the vast majority of the violence has been perpetrated by the security services," the crisis group said.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz contributed to this report.

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