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AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad killed 23 civilians and five army deserters on Tuesday in a crackdown on an eight-month uprising against Assad's rule, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Among those killed were four children shot dead by troops near a school in the central region of Houla and a 12-year-old killed at a protest in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, said the group, which is led by exiled dissident Rami Abdelrahman.
Four deserters were killed when troops stormed a farm where they were hiding near the southern city of Deraa on the Jordan border. The troops also shot dead six villagers at the farm.
A fifth deserter was killed in Qusair near the Lebanese border, the group said.
It was not possible to confirm the killings independently. The authorities, who blame the unrest on "armed terrorist groups," have barred most independent media.
A YouTube video purportedly showed one of the children, Abdelqader Maher Arslan, lying on the floor of a house in Houla with a bullet wound to the back of his head surrounded by members of his family.
Local activists said an armoured column entered the region overnight and troops erected roadblocks after a funeral for an activist turned into an anti-Assad protest. They added that tanks fired heavy machineguns and troops manning the roadblocks opened fire at random in the morning.
Four people were killed in raids on residential districts, including a disabled man in the neighborhood of Khalidiya, and firing from roadblocks in the provincial capital of Homs, 22 km (12 miles) southeast of Houla, the Observatory said.
Anti-Assad rallies were held during the evening in the district, together with protests in Bab Dreib, Bab Sbaa and al-Waar neighborhoods, activists said.
The Observatory said the other killings occurred in the northwestern province of Idlib near the border with Turkey, where two construction workers were killed by tank machinegun fire, and in the province of Hama, where protests have been growing since an assault three months ago.
Activists in Damascus said security police arrested 40 people in the capital's northeastern suburb of Harasta, adding to several hundreds of people who have been detained since an attack by deserters last week on a police complex in the suburb.
Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom; Editing by Louise Ireland