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Syrians seek safe haven in Lebanon

Hundreds of Syrians, some of them with gunshot wounds, have streamed into neighbouring Lebanon in search of refuge from the increasing violence in their homeland, a Lebanese security official said.

The arrivals at the border began shortly after Syrian security forces opened fire on anti-government protesters across the country, killing 20 people, including two children aged 12 and 13, Syrian activists said.

The Local Co-ordination Committee, which tracks the anti-government protests, said most of the deaths happened in the Barzeh neighbourhood of the capital Damascus, as well as the suburb of al-Kaswa. Several others died when security forces opened fire in the central city of Homs, sending residents fleeing into neighbouring Lebanon.

The Syrian opposition said some 1,400 people have been killed in the government's crackdown on a movement demanding an end to four decades of Assad family rule - a popular uprising renewed each Friday after weekly Muslim prayers.

The violence has prompted thousands of Syrians to seek a safe haven in neighbouring countries. Up to 1,000 Syrians entered Lebanon overnight through the al-Qusair crossing in the region of Akkar near Wadi Khaled in northern Lebanon, a Lebanese security official said. They included at least six people with gunshot wounds, he added. The injured are receiving treatment in Akkar hospitals.

The new arrivals join thousands of other Syrians who fled to Lebanon in May and early June, most of them during the Syrian military's crackdown on the border town of Talkalakh, a few minutes' walk from Lebanon's Wadi Khaled.

The military's recent sweep through north-western Syria, where armed resistance flared in early June, has also sent more than 11,700 refugees fleeing across the border to refugee camps in Turkey.

Defying government guns, thousands of Syrian protesters poured down city streets on Friday to press demands for President Bashar Assad to quit. "Our revolution is strong! Assad has lost legitimacy!" a YouTube video showed protesters chanting in Zabadani, a suburb of Damascus, the Syrian capital.

Syria's streets have become the stage for a test of endurance between a three-month-old pro-democracy movement, bloodied but resilient, and an iron-fisted but embattled regime. The latest round of protests and killings came as international pressure mounted on President Assad.

"We will not stand by while the Syrian regime uses violent repression to silence its own people," Foreign Secretary William Hague said after the European Union expanded sanctions - asset freezes and travel bans - to more members of the Syrian leadership.

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